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Trees and flowers more important than time when children choose their route to school


When researchers followed 12-year-olds on their way to school, they were struck by how much importance these children placed on having trees and nature around them, and by how many of them considered others'. ”We can walk here, but could an elderly man who has poor eyesight walk here?" says Katrin Lättman, a researcher at University of Gävle.

Barn på väg till skolan

Photo Mats Andersson TT

In an EU project involving three cities – Dortmund in Germany, Genoa in Italy, and Gothenburg in Sweden – researchers examined how pedestrians perceive the pedestrian paths in these cities. In Sweden, schoolchildren and commuters were in focus.

Katrin Lättman

Katrin Lättman

“Normally, in designing our urban environments, focus will be on distances and travel time, with little emphasis on people’s experiences of the environments. Especially children’s experiences have been neglected here. By interviewing the children while walking with them, we gained an understanding of what influences their views of their paths,” Katrin Lättman says.

Children want beautiful surroundings

The children attached great importance to nature; they want beautiful surroundings with more green spaces and trees.

“It surprised us how keenly they notice beautiful things and how much nature means to them.”.

Children often live close to school and walk, or cycle, more than adults do, but they also face challenges such as road constructions, a lack of information, and poor visibility caused by high fences for example, as some intersections are not designed with children in mind.

“The children also wished they had a few more alternative routes for the sake of variation, since taking the same route could become boring at times.”

Children must adapt

Children are forced to adapt as they don't have the same choice of transportation as adults have. In Sweden, there were specific areas where children felt unsafe. To get home, some children had to pass through these environments, where people they were afraid of spent time.

“The children tried to avoid these areas at certain times. Traffic also came up as an issue, but not to the same extent as in Germany, where almost everything was about traffic.”

Many children also brought up other people's situations: "We can cross here, but an elderly man who has difficulty walking or poor eyesight wouldn’t make it."

"It was surprising that they care so much about others in their environment, empathize with other people's experiences, and incorporate them into their own judgments."

Adults find public transport "too good"

Adults usually have more options when commuting to work, and there were greater differences among them. Some chose the fastest route to save time, while others chose a scenic route.

“The pandemic caused many to develop new habits, like walking or cycling, as congestion made public transportation scary. A woman who participated based her decision on where to work on which route was the most pleasant to walk.”

Adults who chose not to walk or cycle gave reasons like health problems, lack of time, long distances, bicycle theft, and an "excellent" public transport system to motivate their choice to drive or use public transportation.

Behaviors are formed early

It is well-known that behaviors are formed early. For this reason, it is important that children feel comfortable walking to school as this behavior will carry into adulthood and walking is beneficial to our health.

“Children's experiences are not often in focus. In designing walkways, urban planners tend to base their plans on what works well for an average adult who can walk well and who is reasonably fit. But what about the children?"

“There is little research on this, and we want to show alternative methods to gather information. Such methods could be useful especially for planners so that they can create environments where children feel safe and are encouraged to lead a more active lifestyle,” Katrin Lättman says.


Scientific article


Text: Douglas Öhrbom
Photo Katrin Lättman: walkurban.eu


Katrin Lättman docent in psychology at University of Gävle
Phone: 070-889 81 06
E-mail: Katrin.Lattman@hig.se

Published by: Douglas Öhrbom Page responsible: Anders Munck Updated: 2023-10-23
Högskolan i Gävle
Box 801 76 GÄVLE
026-64 85 00 (växel)