By foot at ease : environmental affordances for wellbeing in walking
Abstract: Walking has been shown to provide benefits for our health and also for the environment. Research has also shown that if the built environment is adapted for pedestrians, people walk more. However, there is a lack of qualitative research in architecture and urban design on walking at the micro (streetscape) scale. To address this research gap, this study explores how people living in the Swedish town Varberg experience walking in an urban setting and how these experiences affect their willingness to walk through stating the following research question: ‘How do inhabitants experience environmental and urban aspects in the walkscapes of their neighbourhood in Varberg, Sweden and how do these experiences affect their walking choices?’ Seventeen walk-along interviews were made while walking with residents in the Varberg town. Interviews were transcribed and analysed using qualitative content analysis as the method. Eight categories emerged: a) green aspects, b) urban accessibility, c) physical feasibility, d) place attachment, e) safety, f) social aspects, g) health and wellbeing and h) accomplish task. The participants appreciated having destinations and environments nearby; proximity incentivised them to walk more. However, they indicated shortcomings regarding the information on wayfinding and physical accessibility, as well in the physical environment in regards to freedom of movement for people with physical disabilities. Findings were interpreted and practical recommendations made on a) increased stimulation through variation and change, b) proximity, availability and fine-grained uses, c) information on wayfinding and universal accessibility, d) adaptation of the built environment towards people with physical disabilities, e) place attachment through the coherence in building scale, f) perceived safety through reserved pedestrian space and visual overview and finally, g)lingering and sitting options for comfort and social contract. The walk-along interview methodology worked well and is recommended for further research in architecture and urban design. More research is needed on environments for walking in relation to a) variation and change, b) universal accessibility, c) wayfinding information and d) artefacts for sitting or lingering along the walking route traversed.
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