Qiu, Lingyi (2021-07). Impacts of Housing and Neighborhood Environments on Elementary School Children's Independent Mobility. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • Children's independent mobility (CIM) signifies their ability to move around in a neighborhood without adult supervision. It has declined steeply in recent decades despite its importance for children's physical, mental, and social development. This study examines the impacts of housing and neighborhood environments on two types of CIM: independent travel from home to non-school destinations and unsupervised outdoor play, captured as parental permission for these behaviors. A bilingual (English and Spanish) parent/guardian survey was distributed to 24 public elementary schools in Austin, Texas and advertised through social media to gather information about CIM, perceptions of housing and neighborhood environments, and personal and social factors. Objective physical environments of children's homes and their immediate surroundings were assessed using Google Street View audits, while objective features of neighborhood environments were captured using Geographic Information Systems. Binary logistic regressions were employed to predict CIM using personal, social, and physical environmental factors (perceptions or objective measures). The survey results (N = 883) showed that about half of the parents would allow independent non-school travel (50.8%) or unsupervised outdoor play (45.6%), with most of these activities limited to a five-minute walk from home and a few destinations. When using perceptions of physical environments as predictors, the presence of a friend's/relative's home was a positive predictor, while stranger danger was a negative predictor for both CIM outcomes. The presence of walking/biking trails was a negative predictor of independent travel to non-school destinations, and the quality of surrounding environments was a positive predictor of this behavior. When using objective environmental measures as predictors, the presence of registered sex offenders was a negative predictor of both outcomes. Home location on a corner lot of a dead-end was a positive predictor of parental license for unsupervised outdoor play, while higher Transit Score was a negative predictor. Results also showed that personal and social factors played a significant role in CIM. This study demonstrates the impacts of physical environments on CIM and implies the importance of relevant interventions. The study findings are informative for policymakers, planners, or architects in guiding future efforts to develop more child-friendly environments.

publication date

  • July 2021