Mesa, Gilbert and Chandler are among a handful of Arizona municipalities distinguished as the nation's most "playful" cities.
Playful City USA, an annual list compiled by the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit group KaBOOM!, judges towns and cities on the amount of emphasis and resources they put into recreation programs and parks for children.
Founded in 1995, the group's mission is to supply every child in the nation a place to play within walking distance whether it's a skate park, soccer field or playground.
"The Playful City USA program, which is in its third year, is modeled on that vision," said Mike Vietti, KaBOOM! communication manger.
Vietti said one of the primary goals of the program is to get communities talking "and sort of showcasing and highlighting some of the creative and unique programs that cities across the country have."
Winning cities, which must first apply for inclusion on the Playful City USA list, receive a simple plaque to hang on a wall.
But Liam O'Mahony, a spokesman for Chandler's recreation division, said it's about more than that. He said it's recognition of the city's work to create great parks and recreation programs.
"It's a great distinction for our parks and recreation division, certainly," he said.
Andrea Moore, planning and development supervisor for Mesa's parks, recreation and commercial facilities department, said the city putting a great deal of effort and resources into its recreation programs and park system.
In late May, the town opened the new Park of the Canals on Horne, just south of McKellips Road. Shortly thereafter, officials broke the seal on Beverly Park near Alma School Road and Main Street.
Additionally, the town designated an official "day of play" on Sept. 25 and is about to roll out a "fun and fitness trailer" for the new school year.
"That's a trailer that we send out to schools that has recreation equipment and staffing," Moore said. "Since we don't have recreation centers everywhere, and we have some areas where we don't have as many parks, the idea is to still bring recreation to the neighborhoods through a trailer ... and still get kids up and moving and playing."
The Playful City USA program judges municipalities with a set of criteria, including the existence of a play commission or task force and the amount of money directed at creating and maintaining public play areas.
The program also requires cities to proclaim an annual day of play for children.
Vietti said there's a severe "play deficit" across the country. That can be seen in the rise of childhood obesity and cutbacks on recesses at schools around the country.
He said a recent poll by the organization showed parents feel their kids don't play enough.
"That's where kids sort of learn to be grown-ups," Vietti said. "That's where they learn how to negotiate with one another and how to resolve conflicts. So we really believe that kids that play as children often play better as adults."
Casa Grande, Yuma and Tempe also landed on the list of 93 most playful cities.