Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Arts




Dr. Jason Gilliland


This thesis uses a mixed methods approach to contribute towards a more complete understanding of the relationship between the built environment and children’s active school travel. It is argued that active travel –human powered transportation – to and from school provides regular physical activity that can help reverse rising rates of overweight or obese Canadian children. The built environment of a child’s school neighbourhood has been shown to influence travel decisions. To achieve higher rates of children’s active travel, a comprehensive understanding of the built environment is required.

This study uses child-led perceptual mapping (CLPM) and GIS analysis in a case study with children from three elementary schools in London, Ontario to determine how perception and use of their school neighbourhood varies according to the built environment. The typology for the perceptual mapping activities was inspired by that of urban theorist Kevin Lynch, with children identifying destinations, zones, and routes. A high degree of participation is attained according to Roger Hart’s Ladder of Participation.

It is observed that children perceive of their neighbourhood in unique and complex ways. Children did not perceive land uses by the designated function, nor did they define land uses in singular ways. Prominent features were also not confined to the proximity around their school. Layering the child directed methods as an effective tool in understanding issues facing children’s active travel. It is concluded that active travel must be a priority cemented in policy, and that stakeholders should engage in participatory research across disciplines if rates of active travel are to increase. CLPM is a novel approach that should be used by researchers who aim to understand children’s perception and use of the built environment. Children deserve a major stakeholder role in the school travel planning process, and further research on the impact of the built environment on children’s active travel is needed.