The current PhD thesis explores the influence of the built environment on the affective walking experience. In fact, while urbanisation trends are increasing, levels of walking in urban settings are decreasing, despite to the important health, social, and environmental benefits of walking. However, while there is a rich body of research indicating that walking in natural spaces supports psychological wellbeing, there is a general lack of literature on the potential benefits of walking in urban settings specifically.
A novel theoretical framework is applied, combining two main disciplines: environmental psychology literature on environmental affect and restoration, and geographical literature on walking and mobilities. The following questions are addressed:
- In what ways can walking in urban environments support affect? What is the role of motor traffic and architectural styles on the affective walking experience?
- What are enablers and barriers to a positive affective walking experience in urban contexts other than presence of natural elements?
- To what extent does the affective walking experience influence walking intentions?
A mixed-methods strategy was adopted. First, an online experiment with residents of Bristol (UK) (n=385) compared affective outcomes of walking in five settings in Bristol city centre following a video-simulated walk. Second, a sub-sample of 14 participants was involved in photo and video-elicited interviews based on a real walk.
Quantitative results showed that simulated walks in pedestrianised areas without green elements were associated with affective benefits, as opposed to a commercial area with traffic. Building on these findings, the qualitative phase showed that motor traffic, poor aesthetics, and city busyness have a negative impact on affect. On the other hand, presence of nature and a connection with place supported affect. Specifically, it emerged that such connection is enabled by personal associations, historic elements, and sense of community.
This thesis offers the following main contributions. First, it offers a novel empirical assessment of the affective outcomes of walking in different urban settings and reveals that some urban walking settings support psychological wellbeing. Second, it offers a systematic, empirically-based characterisation of barriers and enablers of a positive affective walking experience in built settings. Finally, it shows how theories of environmental affect can inform active travel policies by revealing that a positive affective and restorative walking experience can encourage walking.