About Project Play: Harlem


It all started when...

Dr. Vivek Murthy, then-Surgeon General of the United States, challenged leaders at the 2015 Project Play Summit to grow access to sport for youth across the nationand take the Project Play framework for action into communities as a tool to rally stakeholders.

East Harlem is the second model community initiative organized by the Aspen Institute's Sports & Society program, after Project Play: Baltimore. It is an effort in partnership with local leaders and is supported by the Mount Sinai Health System, Harris Family Charitable Foundation, Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.

The focus of the effort will encompass the three-square mile span from 96th to 142nd street, with 5th Avenue to the West and the Harlem River to the East. To drive the effort, the partners and the Aspen Institute will:

  • Help stakeholders understand the State of Play for youth in the community through a custom report
  • Convene local leaders and youth to identify, develop, and sustain opportunities to grow access to sport
  • Recruit regional and national organizations to partner with local groups
  • Bring awareness of local innovations and successes in the community through public outreach
  • Share learnings that inspire other communities to mobilize leaders around growing access to sport

Our Mission

Project Play: Harlem is a multi-year initiative designed to help stakeholders increase access to and participation in quality sport opportunities available to local youth. Based on the simple idea that no single organization can do this alone, The Aspen Institute, with the support of Harris Family Charitable Foundation, Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund and Mount Sinai Health System will mobilize civic, youth and sport groups around growing quality youth sport options in East Harlem, our specific area of focus. Only through teamwork can leaders and caregivers provide every child an opportunity to play. 

Our Framework

Project Play: Harlem is guided by the eight strategies for the eight sectors that touch the lives of children, as identified in the Aspen Institute report, Sport for All, Play for Life: A Playbook to Get Every Kid in the Game. Since 2015, more than 100 organizations around the country from professional leagues to grassroots providers have used the report to introduce or shape youth programs.


Our Challenge

East Harlem is a historic community, rooted in a culture of strong collaboration and action, ranging from innovation in youth development through sports and family engagement to confronting public health barriers associated with dense, urban areas. Now, we aim to empower local stakeholders to write the area’s next vibrant chapter, through a unique initiative that will create new opportunities for youth, growing access to and participation in sport.


youth pop. ages 0-17


children in elementary and middle school are obese

40 acres

active open space and facilities, including Randall's and Wards Islands

Our Focus

This effort will span three miles from 96th to 142nd Street, and from 5th Avenue to the East and Harlem River. Project Play: Harlem will work to understand and evaluate the current state of play in East Harlem through an environmental analysis of school and recreation efforts while convening an advisory group of community leaders to guide strategy on building healthy kids and communities through sport.

To learn more, check out our national Project Play initiative, our framework and stay updated on the progress of our first model community initiative in Baltimore.