People and their walking environments: An exploratory study of meanings, place and times

Eric T.H. CHAN*, Tingting Elle LI, Tim SCHWANEN, David BANISTER

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Seen as the most sustainable transport mode, people’s walking has been well investigated in relation to its environmental correlates and benefits to physical and mental well-being in current transportation and public health literature. Much of this research has considered that environmental features determine people’s responses, behaviors and level of satisfaction. Nonetheless, more scholars begin to argue that people’s responses to environments could be highly complex, depending on personal background, past experiences and emotional interpretation of the place. The meanings that people attach to their walking practices may differ by personal, social and cultural contexts, which consequently influence how they perceive and experience their walking environments. The transferability of westernized understandings of walking to other developing cities, thus, is questionable, and will need to be examined empirically. This study focuses on a rapidly developing Chinese city, and explores how pedestrians in Shenzhen respond to the walking environment through their articulation of walking practices. Through analyzing life stories of twenty local residents, three interrelated themes emerged to highlight the significance of meanings attached to walking, engagements with timescapes and attachment to place, illustrating how these themes were entangled with walking experiences. Insights from this study will enable future studies to reconceptualise the relationship between pedestrians and their environments as a more dynamic process which should take into consideration the temporalities of the walking environment and pedestrians’ bodily and emotional capacities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)718-729
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Sustainable Transportation
Issue number9
Early online date20 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

The authors are very grateful for the participants who were interested in this study and kindly shared their walking experiences. We also like to express our sincere gratitude to the three anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions that have significantly improved the quality of this paper.


  • Built environment
  • meaning
  • place attachment
  • temporality
  • urban China
  • walking experience


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