Note: please refer to the letter/number code after each listing if you would like to order a copy of that publication, e.g., A353 or SB60. Email:

  • Oliver M, McPhee J, Carroll P, Ikeda E, Mavoa S, Mackay L, Kearns RA, Kytta M, Asiasiga L, Garrett N, Lin J, Mackett R, Zinn C, Moewaka Barnes H, Egli V, Prendergast K, Witten K. (2016). Neighbourhoods for Active Kids: Study protocol for a cross-sectional examination of neighbourhood features and children’s physical activity, active travel, independent mobility and body size. BMJ Open, 6, e013377, doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-013377. Link to open access full-text. A392
Introduction New Zealand children’s physical activity, including independent mobility and active travel, has declined markedly over recent decades. The Neighbourhoods for Active Kids (NfAK) study examines how neighbourhood built environments are associated with the independent mobility, active travel, physical activity and neighbourhood experiences of children aged 9–12 years in primary and intermediate schools across Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. Methods and analysis Child-specific indices of walkability, destination accessibility and traffic exposure will be constructed to measure the built environment in 8 neighbourhoods in Auckland. Interactive online-mapping software will be used to measure children’s independent mobility and transport mode to destinations and to derive measures of neighbourhood use and perceptions. Physical activity will be measured using 7-day accelerometry. Height, weight and waist circumference will be objectively measured. Parent telephone interviews will collect sociodemographic information and parent neighbourhood perceptions. Interviews with school representative will capture supports and barriers for healthy activity and nutrition behaviours at the school level. Multilevel modelling approaches will be used to understand how differing built environment variables are associated with activity, neighbourhood experiences and health outcomes. Discussion We anticipate that children who reside in neighbourhoods considered highly walkable will be more physically active, accumulate more independent mobility and active travel, and be more likely to have a healthy body size. This research is timely as cities throughout New Zealand develop and implement plans to improve the liveability of intensifying urban neighbourhoods. Results will be disseminated to participants, local government agencies and through conventional academic avenues.
  • Chaudhury M, Oliver M, Badland HM, Witten K. (2016). Using the Public Open Space Attributable Index tool to assess children’s public open space use and access by independent mobility. Children’s geographies, doi: 10.1080/14733285.2016.1214684. A391
Abstract: This study examined associations between public open space (POS) attributes and children’s use, and independent mobility to, POS in Auckland, New Zealand. Overall 240 children aged 9–12 years and their parents/caregivers participated. Data were sourced from child travel diaries and parent telephone interviews. The Public Open Spaces Attributable Index (POSAI) assessed POS quality and quantity. Associations were examined between age, sex, ethnicity, parental licence of freedom score, and POSAI with: (1) child trips to POS and (2) independently mobile trips to POS. Children made a total of 68 trips to POS over a seven-day period; 35 of these were independently mobile. Child ethnicity was related to child trips to POS. Independent trips to POS differed by ethnicity and parental licence of freedom. This research utilised a new tool, the POSAI, to examine associations of POS use and independent mobility in children living in urban neighbourhoods
  • Oliver, M., Parker, K., Witten, K., Mavoa, S., Badland, H.M., Chaudury, M., Kearns, R. (2016) Children’s out-of-school independent mobility, active travel, and physical activity: A cross-sectional examination from the Kids in the City study. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 13(3), 318-324, doi: 10.1123/jpah.2015-0043. Link to summary. A389
Background: The study aim was to determine the association between children’s objectively assessed moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) and active trips (AT) and independently mobile trips (IM) during out-of-school hours. Methods: Children aged 9 to 13 years (n = 254) were recruited from 9 schools in Auckland, New Zealand between 2011 and 2012. Children completed travel diaries and wore accelerometers for 7 days. Parents provided demographic information. Geographic information systems-derived distance to school was calculated. Accelerometer data were extracted for out of school hours only. Percentage of time spent in MVPA (%MVPA), AT, and IM were calculated. Generalized estimating equations were used to determine the relationship between daily %MVPA and AT and between daily %MVPA and IM, accounting for age, sex, ethnicity, distance to school, day of the week, and numeric day of data collection. Results: A significant positive relationship was observed between %MVPA and both AT and IM. For every unit increase in the daily percentage of trips made that were AT or IM, we found an average increase of 1.28% (95% CI 0.87%, 1.70%) and 1.15% (95% CI 0.71%, 1.59%) time in MVPA, respectively. Conclusion: Children’s AT and IM are associated with increased MVPA during out-of-school hours.
  • Kearns, R., Carroll, P., Asiasiga, L., & Witten, K. (2015). The variegated nature of play for Auckland children: banal landscapes and the promotion of wellbeing. In J. Horton & B. Evans (Eds.), Play, Recreation, Health and Well Being, in Volume 9 of Skelton, T. (editor-in-chief), Geographies of Children and Young People: Springer. SB63
Abstract: Children’s right to play – as enshrined in Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) – is important for children’s cognitive, social, and physical development and for their everyday well-being. Neighborhood affordances – formal and informal – provide more (or less) opportunities for informal active play and social interactions. However, urban intensification of neighborhoods in many Western cities, with the accompanying increase in traffic volumes, is impinging on children’s ability to play freely. Active play is a major component of physical activity, which is important in the context of decreasing levels of physical activity and poorer health outcomes. Research shows children are more physically active when engaged in informal play than during formal play activities like sport. Thus children’s access to places to play informally is an important public health issue as well as a UN-sanctioned right. This chapter explores the state of play for children, with a focus on the informal play of 253 children aged 9–12 years across nine suburban and inner-city neighborhoods in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. The children’s perspectives, presented here within a third place/space framework, were elicited using a range of qualitative participatory methods. The chapter concludes that, given the opportunity, the children in this research play anywhere and everywhere – in improvised places as well as in their backyards, school playgrounds, parks, and sports facilities.
  • Carroll, P. & Witten, K. (2015). Freyberg Square and Pioneer Women’s and Ellen Melville Hall Upgrade – Children’s Consultation. Freyberg Square report
  • Witten, K., & Carroll, P. (2015). Children’s neighborhoods: places of play or spaces of fear? In K. Nairn & P. Kraftl (Eds.), Space, Landscape, and Environment, in Volume 3 of Skelton, T. (editor-in-chief), Geographies of Children and Young People. Springer. SB61
Abstract: Backyards, streets, and public spaces such as parks and playgrounds have traditionally been the play arenas of an urban childhood – the neighborhood spaces in which children seek out each other to play, explore, and socialize. While neighborhoods continue to be important sites in children’s lives, in many developed countries, the freedoms that afforded children to roam unsupervised by an adult have contracted over recent decades. Heightened concerns for children’s safety, especially fears relating to traffic and strangers, have triggered major shifts in parenting practices. Where children once walked and cycled to school, they are now more likely to be chauffeured by parents in cars, and, for many children, outdoor play has become an adult-dependent activity. This chapter looks at why outdoor play and other forms of independent mobility are important for children’s well-being and discusses possible explanations for their decline. It also reports on children’s use and experiences of diverse urban neighborhood environments, and parenting practices around children’s mobility, drawing on data from Kids in the City, a research project conducted between 2010 and 2014 in Auckland, New Zealand.
  • Carroll, P., Witten, K., & Kearns, R. (2015). Kids in the City: everyday life in inner-city Auckland. In C. Freeman & P. Tranter (Eds.), Space, Landscape, and Environment, in Volume 12 of Skelton, T. (editor-in-chief), Geographies of Children and Young People. Springer. SB62
Abstract: To be socially sustainable, cities must provide for the wellbeing of the children who live in them. Imperatives of environmental sustainability have led to recent intensification in New Zealand cities and more children living in inner-city apartments; but provision for their wellbeing has lagged. While commonplace throughout most of the world, inner-city apartment living has been considered unsuitable for children in New Zealand, where suburban houses with backyards are seen as the proper settings for them to grow up. Tensions are evident between the adult-centric/auto-centric nature of cities and children’s needs for places to play and interact, between “child-blind” city planning and children’s presence (albeit largely invisible) in the city, and between children’s rights to be out and about in the third places, or public spaces of the city, and fears for their safety. Past fears of the physical dangers of disease and the moral dangers of “licentious living” have morphed into present-day fears of the dangers posed by traffic and strangers. Two recent studies explored the “realities” of everyday life for children living in inner-city high-rise and medium-density dwellings in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. They identified concerns about lack of spaces for children to play and interact (inside and around apartment complexes and in surrounding neighborhoods) and fears for children’s safety, which constrained their use of the city. The findings raise questions about the social sustainability of recent developments in Auckland City and elsewhere and highlight the need for more “child-friendly” cities.
  • Oliver M, Mavoa S, Badland H, Parker K, Donovan P, Kearns RA, Lin, E-Y, Witten K. (2015). Associations between the neighbourhood built environment and out of school physical activity and active travel: An examination from the Kids in the City study. Health & Place, 36, 57-64, doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2015.09.005. Link to open access full-text. A366
Abstract: This study’s aim was to examine selected objectively-measured and child specific built environment attributes in relation to proportion of out-of-school time spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (%MVPA) and active travel in a group of ethnically and socio-economically diverse children (n=236) living in Auckland, New Zealand. Street connectivity and distance to school were related to the proportion of trips made by active modes. Ratio of high speed to low speed roads and improved streetscape for active travel were related to %MVPA on weekdays only. Inconsistent results were found for destination accessibility. Local destinations (particularly schools) along a safe street network may be important for encouraging children’s activity behaviours.
Abstract: Cities are largely designed for adults and cars, not children. Auckland City’s new ‘children first’ approach signals a shift in policy focus to consider the needs of children. The authors’ ‘Kids in the City’ research is helping inform this approach by providing policy-relevant information about children’s use and experiences of nine Auckland neighbourhoods, suburban and inner-city, using trip diaries, child-led walkalong interviews and discussion groups. The children were neighbourhood key informants and co-producers of knowledge who reported on their environments, discussed what they liked and disliked, their safety concerns and their limited mobility, and made suggestions for more ‘child-friendly’ neighbourhoods.
  • Badland, H., Kearns, R., Carroll, P., Oliver, M., Mavoa, S., Donovan, P., Parker, K., Chaudhury, M., Lin, J., & Witten, K. (2015). Development of a systems model to visualise the complexity of children’s independent mobility. Children’s Geographies, Published online: 16 Mar 2015, doi:10.1080/14733285.14732015.11021240. A361
Abstract: Substantial changes to the built environment, urbanisation patterns, and societal norms, have contributed to limiting children’s opportunities for being independently mobile. Several linear causal pathway models have been developed to understand child independent mobility influences; however feedback loops between and within the various levels of influence cannot be modelled using such an approach. The purpose of this paper is to: 1) refine the interrelationships of factors related to children’s independent mobility, taking into account earlier models, broader contextual factors, and feedback loops; and 2) inform our future quantitative analysis strategies in this field. Model components were informed by attributes known to influence children’s independent mobility, related qualitative findings, and developing a systems model that could lend itself to multilevel modelling approaches. This systems model may provide a useful structure for identifying how best to develop and monitor interventions to halt the declining rates of child independent mobility.
  • Badland, H., Donovan, P., Mavoa, S., Oliver, M., Chaudhury, M., & Witten, K. (2015). Assessing neighbourhood destination access for children: Development of the NDAI-C audit tool. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 42, doi:10.1068/b140009p. A362
Abstract: Considerable societal changes across many countries have altered how children interact with their local environment, yet child-specific destination data has not been translated into a child-related destination accessibility index to further understand how neighbourhood locations support or hinder child mobility. Using data sourced from 238 9-11 year old children living in Auckland, New Zealand, this study aimed to: identify common destinations children travelled to; and develop a spatially-derived objective index to quantify access to destinations that may support child mobility in the neighbourhood. Our findings show children accessed a wide range of destinations during their daily activities, and the neighbourhoods that supported children’s mobility tended to be located in more established, rather than newer greenfield developments.
  • Witten, K., Kearns, R., & Carroll, P. (2015). Urban inclusion as wellbeing; exploring children’s accounts of confronting diversity on inner city streets. Social Science and Medicine, Available online 14 January, doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2015.01.016. A353
Abstract: The diversity of people living in a city is often most visible on inner city streets. These streets are also the neighbourhood environment of children who live in the central city. In the past, the wellbeing and sensibilities of children have been marginalised in planning practices in western cities but this is beginning to change with child-friendly and inclusive city discourses now more common. In this paper we report on children’s experiences confronting diversity in inner-city Auckland. In 2012, 40 inner-city children, 9-12 years, participated in walking interviews in their local streets and school-based focus group discussions. As the children talked about their lives, moving and playing around neighbourhood streets, many described distress and discomfort as they confronted homelessness, drunkenness, and signs of the sex industry. A few older children also described strategies for coping with these encounters, an emerging acceptance of difference and pride in becoming streetwise. New Zealand (NZ) has a history of progressive social policy. In 2003, it became the first country in the world to decriminalise all forms of prostitution. Securing the health and human rights of sex workers were the primary drivers of the reforms. Similar concerns for health and rights underpin broadly inclusive local policies towards homelessness. To promote the health and wellbeing of inner city children their presence on city streets, alongside those of other marginalised groups, needs to be at the forefront of planning concerns. However we conclude that there are inherent tensions in promoting a child-friendly city in which diversity and inclusiveness are also valued.
  • Oliver M, Schoeppe S, Mavoa S, Duncan S, Kelly P, Donovan P, Kytta M. (2014) Children’s Geographies for Activity and Play: An Overview of Measurement Approaches. In: Evans B, et al. Play, Recreation, Health and Well Being, Geographies of Children and Young People, 9, doi: 10.1007/978-981-4585-96-5_16-1 SB64
Abstract: Physical activity is fundamental to child health and development. Evidence suggests that environmental features may promote or hinder children’s participation in physical activity, in particular active transport and independent mobility. To date, a clear understanding of the relationships between environmental factors and children’s activity behaviors remains equivocal. An essential component of understanding children’s geographies and related outcomes is the ability to accurately assess the environments and environmental features that matter to children. Current measures include geographic information systems derived features, audits, user perceptions (via surveys), and photographic data collection. An overview of these measures is provided, including discussion on strengths, weaknesses, and implications for research.
Online link
  • Chaudhury M, Oliver M, Badland HM, Mavoa S. (2014). Public Open Spaces, Children’s Independent Mobility. In: Evans B, et al. Play, Recreation, Health and Well Being, Geographies of Children and Young People, 9, doi: 10.1007/978-981-4585-96-5_16-1 SB65
Abstract: The health benefits of children engaging in at least 60 min of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) daily are well documented, including improved musculoskeletal health, cardiovascular risk profiles, and aerobic fitness and better psychological well-being. Many Western countries have indicated a decline in physical activity over recent decades. Emerging research shows that children who engage in outdoor activities and travel to destinations using active modes (i.e., walking, cycling) accumulate higher levels of physical activity than those that do not. Over recent decades, research interest has focused on children’s independent outdoor play and active travel to destinations within their neighborhood, including journeys to and from school without adult accompaniment. Engaging in independent mobility has two important benefits for children. Firstly, engaging in non-formalized activity practices helps children attain daily physical activity recommendations, which in turn, generates significant health benefits. Secondly, independent mobility has an important role in fostering children’s physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and spatial development; this carries into adult life. A growing body of evidence suggests that the use of public open spaces, including parks and green spaces, is associated with many health and well-being benefits of urban dwellers. Public open spaces are also recognized as important settings to promote physical activity and children’s independent mobility, not only because of purpose-built infrastructure (e.g., playgrounds) but also as easily accessible destinations for unstructured activities such as walking, cycling, and informal outdoor play. This chapter first provides an overview of children’s independent mobility and thereafter synthesizes the literature related to public open spaces within the context of children’s activity and independent mobility.
  • Oliver, M., Mavoa, S., Badland, H., Carroll, P., Asiasiga, L., Tavae, N., Kearns, R., & Witten, K. (2014). What constitutes a trip? Examining child journey attributes using GPS and self-report. Children’s Geographies, 12(2), 249-256. A338 Link to summary
Abstract: Active travel is associated with improved health and development outcomes in children. Accurate detection of children’s travel behaviors and routes, however, is problematic. Travel diaries are often used to collect information on children’s travel behaviors, yet no evidence for the accuracy of this methodology exists. This study investigated the validity of children’s self-reported trips (origin, destination) compared with an objective criterion (global positioning systems units; GPS). Children (n = 10, 9–11 y) wore the GPS units for seven consecutive days between March and June 2011 and completed travel diaries daily with researcher assistance. Affinity group interviews were conducted in December 2011 with 30 children from two schools to garner perspectives on trip definition, neighborhood perceptions, and to illuminate GPS and travel diary findings. GPS journeys were manually compared with travel diary journeys for destination sequencing, start times, and travel mode. Accuracy in trip sequencing was compared by day type, and journey type using percentage differences and the chi-square (χ2) statistic. Of the 380 trips captured, 54.5% of journey sequences were fully or partially matched, 22.4% were GPS only trips and 23.2% travel diary only. Greater accuracy (full/partial match) was observed for weekdays than for weekend days and for the journey to or from school than for other journeys. Travel mode agreement existed for 99% of matched trips. Although children’s travel diaries may confer contextual journey information, they may not provide completely accurate information on journey sequencing. Thematic analysis of affinity group data revealed that reasons for this are multifaceted, including differing concepts of what constitutes a ‘trip’. A combined approach of GPS and travel diary is recommended to gather a comprehensive understanding of children’s journey characteristics.
  • Witten, K., Kearns, R., Carroll, P., Asiasiga, L., & Tava’e Fa’avale, N. (2014). New Zealand parents’ understandings of the intergenerational decline in children’s independent outdoor activity. In M. Roche, J. Mansvelt, R. Prince & A. Gallagher (Eds.), Engaging Geographies: Landscapes, Lifecourses and Mobilities (pp. 155-174). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. SB60
  • Carroll, P., Asiasiga, L., Tav’ae, N., & Witten, K. (2013). Kids in the City: Differing Perceptions of One Neighbourhood in Aotearoa / New Zealand. In R. Coles & Z. Millman (Eds.), Landscape, Wellbeing and Environment (pp. 129-146). London: Routledge. SB59
  • Witten, K., Kearns, R., Carroll, P., Asiasiga, L. & Tava’e, N. (2013) New Zealand parents’ understandings of the intergenerational decline in children’s independent outdoor play and active travel. Children’s Geographies, 11(2), 215-229. A321
Abstract: Children’s independent mobility and physical activity levels are declining in Western countries. In the past 20 years New Zealand children’s active travel (walking and cycling) has dropped on average from 130 to 72 minutes per week, and those travelling by car to school have increased from 31% to 58%. This paper describes parents’ understandings of why 9–11-year-old primary school children in suburban Auckland are less likely to walk to school and play unsupervised outdoors than they were as children. Data gathered in focus groups show understandings range from proximate neighbourhood explanations to downstream impacts of a neoliberal policy context.
  • Mavoa, S., Oliver, M., Witten, K., & Badland, H. (2011). Linking GPS and travel diary data using sequence alignment in a study of children’s independent mobility. International Journal of Health Geographics, 10(64), A294
Abstract: Global positioning systems (GPS) are increasingly being used in health research to determine the location of study participants. Combining GPS data with data collected via travel/activity diaries allows researchers to assess where people travel in conjunction with data about trip purpose and accompaniment. However, linking GPS and diary data is problematic and to date the only method has been to match the two datasets manually, which is time consuming and unlikely to be practical for larger data sets. This paper assesses the feasibility of a new sequence alignment method of linking GPS and travel diary data in comparison with the manual matching method. GPS and travel diary data obtained from a study of children’s independent mobility were linked using sequence alignment algorithms to test the proof of concept. Travel diaries were assessed for quality by counting the number of errors and inconsistencies in each participant’s set of diaries. The success of the sequence alignment method was compared for higher versus lower quality travel diaries, and for accompanied versus unaccompanied trips. Time taken and percentage of trips matched were compared for the sequence alignment method and the manual method. The sequence alignment method matched 61.9% of all trips. Higher quality travel diaries were associated with higher match rates in both the sequence alignment and manual matching methods. The sequence alignment method performed almost as well as the manual method and was an order of magnitude faster. However, the sequence alignment method was less successful at fully matching trips and at matching unaccompanied trips. Sequence alignment is a promising method of linking GPS and travel diary data in large population datasets, especially if limitations in the trip detection algorithm are addressed.
  • Oliver, M., Witten, K., Kearns, R., Mavoa, S., Badland, H., Carroll, P., Drumheller, C., Tavae, N., Asiasiga, L., Jelley, S., Kaiwai, H., Opit, S., Sweetsur, P., Moewaka Barnes, H., Mason, N. & Ergler, C. (2011). Kids in the city study: research design and methodology. BMC Public Health, 11(587). A284
Abstract: Physical activity is essential for optimal physical and psychological health but substantial declines in children’s activity levels have occurred in New Zealand and internationally. Children’s independent mobility (i.e., outdoor play and traveling to destinations unsupervised), an integral component of physical activity in childhood, has also declined radically in recent decades. Safety-conscious parenting practices, car reliance and auto-centric urban design have converged to produce children living increasingly sedentary lives. This research investigates how urban neighborhood environments can support or enable or restrict children’s independent mobility, thereby influencing physical activity accumulation and participation in daily life. The study is located in six Auckland, New Zealand neighborhoods, diverse in terms of urban design attributes, particularly residential density. Participants comprise 160 children aged 9-11 years and their parents/caregivers. Objective measures (global positioning systems, accelerometers, geographical information systems, observational audits) assessed children’s independent mobility and physical activity, neighborhood infrastructure, and streetscape attributes. Parent and child neighborhood perceptions and experiences were assessed using qualitative research methods. This study is one of the first internationally to examine the association of specific urban design attributes with child independent mobility. Using robust, appropriate, and best practice objective measures, this study provides robust epidemiological information regarding the relationships between the built environment and health outcomes for this population.
  • Carroll, P., Witten, K., & Kearns, R. (2011). Housing Intensification in Auckland New Zealand: Implications for Children and Families. Housing Studies, 26(3), 353-367. A278
Abstract: While commonplace throughout most of the world, inner-city apartments have often been perceived as unsuitable for children in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, where discourses of houses, gardens and open spaces as being desirable sites for children prevail. However, increasing awareness of the need for environmental sustainability has placed the viability of sprawling suburbs in question. As city centres intensify, more families are moving into inner-city apartments. In a study carried out in response to this change, in-depth interviews with parents living in Auckland’s CBD found that key drivers were affordability, less reliance on cars and the convenience of the central location. Drawbacks included poor quality apartment design and lack of play space for children, both inside apartment complexes and outdoors. Fears about children’s safety were strong. An assessment of the findings raises questions about the social sustainability of recent apartment developments in Auckland, particularly for families.
  • Witten, K., & Carroll, P. (2011). Intensification, housing affordability and families: Learning from the Auckland CBD. In K. Witten, W. Abrahamse & K. Stuart (Eds.), Growth Misconduct? Avoiding Sprawl and Improving Urban Intensification in New Zealand (pp. 79-89). Wellington: New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities, University of Otago. SB55