Child-friendly urban structures: Bullerby revisited

Broberg, A., Kyttä, M., & Fagerholm, N.

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Broberg, A., Kyttä, M., & Fagerholm, N. (2013). Child-friendly urban structures: Bullerby revisited. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 35, 110–120.

Affordance , Built Environment , Child Friendliness , GIS , Independent Mobility

Definitions of environmental child friendliness offer broad criteria that are not easy to study or assess. We suggest that due to this broadness, these definitions have produced surprisingly few attempts to evaluate how child-friendly various types of physical environments are. The purpose of this study is to analyse how the structure of the built environment contributes to environmental child friendliness. We define child friendliness by two central criteria: children’s possibilities for independent mobility and their opportunities to actualize environmental affordances. We study how built environment qualities condition environmental child friendliness in place-based ways by asking children and youth in Turku, Finland, to tell about their meaningful places and their mobility to these. The data consists of over 12,000 affordances, localized by the respondents. This experiential and behavioural place-based knowledge is combined with objectively measured data on residential and building density, and quantity of green structures. Moderate urban density seems to have child-friendly characteristics such as an ability to promote independent access to meaningful places and the diversity of affordances. We find that affordances situated on residential areas are likely to be reached alone, whereas access to affordances situated in densely built urban cores is less independent. The proportion of green structures is not associated with independent access. The diversity of affordances is highest in areas that are densely populated and not very green. Green areas are important settings for doing things, and green structures around emotional affordances increase the likelihood of liking the place significantly. Combining children’s place-based experiences with information derived from objective measurable qualities of the physical environment provides a valuable methodological contribution to studies on environmental child friendliness, and the two proposed criteria of child friendliness are supported by this study. There is no one environment that is child-friendly, but different environments have different uses and meanings.

Main finding
The authors of this study argue that defining environmental "child-friendliness" is a difficult task, and set out to interrogate the concept via studying how children describe how various environments offer (a) the possibilities for independent mobility and (b) "affordances" (functional, activity, social, and emotional opportunities). A survey of schoolchildren indicates that higher density (more residential units per hectare) are related with children's access to affordances, but taller buildings (higher floor area ratios) are associated with reduced childhood independence. Moreover, children rated greener spaces with more positive evaluations, but environments with more diverse affordances were more densely populated and less green. The findings show a complicated dynamic between child hood autonomy, opportunities for actions, and physical characteristics.

Description of method used in the article
Primary and secondary school students (N = 1,837) in Turku, Finland participated in the study in 2008. They located on a computer program (softGIS) the locations of four types of affordances they experience (centered around their school, average 8.2 identified per participant): (a) social affordances, (b) activity affordances, (c), functional affordances, and (d) emotional affordances. After locating the affordances on the map, participants indicated associated mobility (e.g., alone, with friends, accompanied by adult), and the likeability the localization. GIS data was also used to gather information about green areas and density. Analysis primarily by ANOVA.

Of some practical use if combined with other research

Organising categories

Play/Passive Recreation
3D / Digital / Datasets
Physical types
Geographic locations