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Children's independence and affordances experienced in the context of public open spaces: A study of diverse inner-city and suburban neighbourhoods in Auckland, New Zealand


Public open spaces are children’s favorite destinations for play in their neighborhood, but parental restrictions and safety concerns often limit children’s independent mobility

This study investigated children’s experiences and perceptions of neighborhood public open spaces (POS) in order to understand POS affordances for children’s independent mobility (CIM). POS are outdoor environments where children can play, such as parks, playgrounds, school grounds and natural areas (woodlands, grassy fields, etc.). Affordances refer to properties of an environment that provide opportunities for children to interact actively with the environment. A tree, for example, affords children the opportunity to climb. Independent mobility is the freedom children have to move to destinations outside the home through active travel (walking, biking, etc.) and to play without adult supervision.

A total of 140 children (age 9-13) from nine ethnically-diverse neighborhoods across Auckland, New Zealand participated in semi-structured child-led walking interviews. The goal was to obtain information about the children’s own views and knowledge of their neighborhoods. Discussions during the interviews focused on children’s likes and dislikes, safety concerns, and how to make the neighborhood ‘child-friendly’. Trained high school students (age 16–18) conducted most of the interviews with the 100 children living in suburban neighborhoods. These youth researchers lived in the same neighborhoods as the younger children being interviewed. Walking interviews with 40 children in the inner-city were conducted by members of the research team rather than youth interviewers, due to concerns about quality of those interviews, and were preceded by an at-home interview. All interviews were audiotaped and transcribed.

The extent of CIM varied across the neighborhoods, with more suburban children having greater freedom than inner-city children to go to POS independent of adult supervision. POS, especially parks, were preferred locations for children to engage in various forms of play. While children enjoyed the physical attributes of POS (such as trees), they also liked POS for the opportunity to have fun with friends and siblings, to have personal ‘quiet’ time, and to engage in adventurous play. Primary factors influencing CIM were parental license, advances in mobile phone technology (facilitating parent-child communication), safety of POS, and geographical location. Children’s interaction with POS involved both positive affordances (e.g., playground equipment) and negative affordances (e.g., scary people). Play was the most predominant actualized affordance (actualized affordances are what the individual perceives and what is revealed through the individual’s actions).

This study demonstrates the value of taking children’s perspectives into account when planning outdoor environments for children’s play.


Chaudhury, M., Hinckson, M.E., Badland, H., Oliver, M., (2019). Children's independence and affordances experienced in the context of public open spaces: A study of diverse inner-city and suburban neighbourhoods in Auckland, New Zealand. Children's Geographies, 17(1), 49-63.


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