Does a More Centrally Located School Promote Walking to School? Spatial Centrality in School-Neighborhood Settings.
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BACKGROUND: A public elementary school has traditionally functioned as an important center of a neighborhood, but this role has diminished with sprawling urban developments. Despite the large number of studies of children's walking to/from school (WTS), the school's location in relation to the larger neighborhood context has not been fully explored. This study is to examine the relationship between school's spatial centrality and children's WTS in urban, suburban and rural settings. METHODS: this study used school travel tally (11,721 students), environment audit, GIS and census data from 71 elementary school/neighborhoods in Texas, and employed the closeness centrality index to estimate a school's spatial centrality. Data were collected from 2009-2012. RESULTS: After controlling for neighborhood characteristics, it was found that more centrally located schools are likely to have higher proportions of WTS in the neighborhoods. And, among urban, suburban and rural settings, urban schools were the most and rural schools were the least likely to be centrally-located in the neighborhoods. CONCLUSIONS: The findings offer implications on school and community planning policies that can help promote WTS. Spatial centrality measures can be effective tools to identify environmental factors in complex urban networks related to human behaviors and community-based activities.