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A sustainable journey to school: global issues, local places, children's lives

STEVENS, JULIA (2010) A sustainable journey to school: global issues, local places, children's lives. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This research is located in the fields of the geographies of childhood, social and environmental policy and urban transport studies. It adds to geographical thinking about children’s choices in their everyday mobilities. My thesis makes an original contribution by filling in large gaps in knowledge about the journey to school experiences of the children, commenting on household circumstances, public space policy, social exclusion and children’s participation in decision making (Hillman, 2006; Jarvis, 2005; McDonald, 2008; Pain, 2006). Children’s choices in their everyday lives are found to be influenced by a complex mix of factors including gender, age, household structure, residential location, health, social culture, urban design and school culture. The research is timely in light of current high profile public and political debates about childhood health, access to public space, social exclusion, sustainable transport policy and children’s rights (Barker, 2003; CABE, 2008; Lolichen, 2007; SEU, 2003; Unicef, 2007). Despite heightened interest in these issues, little is known about the individual experiences of children’s journeys to school at a fine-grained level. My thesis therefore brings together a number of isolated debates and investigates the opportunities and constraints shaping children’s everyday choices; provides policy-relevant insights into the ways in which they reconcile their everyday mobility behaviour within overlapping spheres of impact; provides a theoretical framework within which to understand the sustainable mobility choices available to children in contemporary British society with relation to their journeys to school; and highlights how children view sustainable policy and practices and the relevance and application to their individual circumstances.

The research employed a participatory action research approach whereby the children and young people themselves helped specify the range of qualitative methods (interviews, discussion groups, photography, videos, art, drama, statistics and poetry). This dynamic process revealed the fluid and ambiguous nature of children’s journeys to school. It showed that high levels of understanding exist amongst children and young people concerning health and environmental issues associated with the journey to school, yet circumstances located within the key spaces that children occupy (the home, public space and school) limit individual choice, leading to less healthy behavioural patterns of unsustainable travel. Despite ongoing strategies employed at national and local levels to encourage sustainable travel, modal shift has proved negligible. Possible reasons advanced in this thesis are a lack
of understanding on behalf of policy makers of the complexities inherent within the spheres of influence that impact on children’s decision making capabilities, policies and strategies proving to be ambiguous or ineffectively communicated and unsuitable for localised situations and the lack of active, meaningful child participation within the decision-making processes. This research therefore provides a critique of some of the more positive assumptions underpinning current concepts regarding children’s participation within policy debate and argues for more micro- research on individual children’s lives.

This research highlights the importance of the social aspects of sustainable policy. This relatively neglected dimension of sustainable environmental policy suggests the possibility of an alternate model of sustainable travel with respect to the journey to school, which accounts for the web of interconnecting influencing structures involved in the formation of children’s everyday lives, and which also considers the importance of children’s agency. Providing a physical structure for sustainable travel is insufficient and a progressive, holistic model encompassing the social and cultural dimensions of sustainability is required. Interventions at the school level to encourage more sustainable journeys to school need to be matched by changes in the social and cultural contexts found within the home in particular, as well as within public space, so benefits can be enhanced and healthier choices, with regards to everyday travel behaviour, can be made.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Childhood, mobility, journey to school, sustainable travel
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Geography, Department of
Thesis Date:2010
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:13 Apr 2011 16:22

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