This study explores children’s neighbourhood mobility and their experiences within their neighbourhoods at different times of the year, focussing on their use of the public places and spaces within these both for travel and play. It takes a child-centred approach to the research, working with a small group of children (n=17) from three schools in Hackney, east London to better understand their neighbourhood mobility and exploring how this impacts on their well-being. It uses a mix of mainly qualitative methods, including go-along interviews, mapping exercises, focus group discussions, weekly diaries and photography. The research incorporates whole class surveys and descriptive statistics from these to support the qualitative elements. The study draws from the field of environmental psychology, to better understand how children interact with their environments, and places a strong focus on children’s experiences within their neighbourhoods and the factors that influence their behaviours within them.
The children in the study moved around their neighbourhoods mostly on foot and knew them well. Being physically independent was less important to them than the level of autonomy that the children had in their use of their neighbourhoods. Being able to get around on foot helped them to develop this autonomy, even when accompanied by an adult, and these early experiences of active travel were shown to support the development of a child’s future independent mobility.
The study found that the built environment plays an important role in children’s use of their neighbourhoods, particularly the threshold spaces outside of a child’s home, the transitory spaces supporting active travel around a neighbourhood and the destination spaces, or places to go. However, the built environment does not function in isolation. It was found that the interaction of other factors, such as social and cultural influences, individual characteristics, the school environment and the children’s relationship with the natural environment, with the built environment were what influenced children’s behaviour. The study draws on understanding of socioecological models and Complex Adaptive Systems. The themes of permission and motivation are used to highlight the different levels of influence and how these factors interact to influence children’s’ behaviour and use of space.
By focussing on children’s experiences, the study considers the impact that children’s neighbourhood mobility has on their physical and mental well-being. Positive benefits are suggested with regard to their mental well-being. The study shows that children’s neighbourhood mobility may help children to meet three of the basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness.