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Researching School Streets with Children

Recently, Marie Kaune from the University of Westminster undertook research with pupils from Van Gogh Primary School in Lambeth, exploring the impacts of the School Street experiment. As one of the experiments which EX-TRA is focussing on, the insights from this research help us to understand the impact that this street experiment has on primary school-aged children, whose voices are often overlooked and not considered in decision-making processes. The research was awarded the JC Decaux grant for best Research Report. Marie has summarised some of the insights and findings from her research for us in this news post. To read the full report, please go to our resources page.

How does the Van Gogh School Street contribute to a more Sustainable and Child-Friendly Neighbourhood? A Lambeth Case Study

By Marie Kaune

Research with pupils from Van Gogh Primary School in Lambeth explored the impacts of the School Street experiment. Even though public consultation is common practice in urban planning children's voices are often overlooked and not considered in decision-making processes. However, with the advancing Climate Crisis and the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has become ever more important to include children's voices in data collection to achieve better and more sustainable cities. Aiming to collect data on children’s opinions of the Van Gogh School Street the undertaken research provides pupils with an opportunity to play an active role in the evaluation of the experiment and raises awareness of the potential of collecting data from children.

The School Street experiment presents an intervention that aims to decrease air pollution and road danger around schools while promoting active travel to improve the urban environment for pupils specifically. Located in the London Borough of Lambeth, the School Street in front of Van Gogh Primary School was first introduced in the summer of 2020. Since then, pupils, teachers and school staff have used the extra space to walk, cycle and socialise before and after school hours.

While there have been complaints from local residents about the impact of the experiment on the parking situation, most feedback from teaching staff and parents is positive. However, as the experiment has a direct influence on pupils’ everyday life, the consultation of their opinions on the School Street is essential to evaluate the success of the experiment.

For the research report, a survey was distributed among 100 children from year 4 and 5 including questions about their commute to school and perception of the Van Gogh School Street experiment. The data has shown that the majority of children like the experiment and mention increased road safety as the most important aspect of the School Street. Pupils enjoy the additional space to talk to their friends, cycle and walk without the disruption of cars driving along the road. For a short period of time, the school also used the space at pick-up time providing parents and pupils with more space to socialise and allowing better conditions for social distancing.

Children's drawings of their commute to school and the Van Gogh School Street Source: Marie Kaune, Research Report May 2022.

While there is some controversy around the experiment, overall, the School Street contributes to a more child-friendly environment around the school encouraging active travel and increased social interactions. The collected data shows that pupils welcome the School Street experiment as it provides a safer environment and allows for greater independence. This case study indicates the most important consultation for the evaluation of School Streets is the consultation of children as their direct participation will provide the answers needed to create safer, more sustainable, and healthier cities.

Marie Kaune recently graduated from the BA Designing Cities program at the University of Westminster, led by Giulio Verdini. Marie's research was conducted under the supervision of Giulio Verdini, Enrica Papa, and Emilia Smeds, and her internship with EX-TRA was made possible because of funding from the Participatory Research Fund.

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