The influence of the built environment on neighbourhood-level walking behaviour and experience : a case study of Shenzhen

Tak Hin Eric CHAN, Tim SCHWANEN (Thesis Supervisor), David BANISTER (Thesis Supervisor)

Research output: Other contributionThesis/Dissertation


The built environment, defined as the man-made environment that provides the setting for human activity, plays a significant role in shaping people’s walking behaviour and experiences. A more walkable environment can have multiple benefits to both society and individuals, including creating safer, more livable and connected neighbourhoods, reducing traffic congestion, noise and air pollution through coordination with other public transport modes, and increasing individual health and well-being. Therefore, policies that aim at improving the built environment have attracted increasing attention from both researchers and practitioners. An upsurge of studies has revealed that neighbourhood built environmental features, such as population density, land-use mix, proximity to parks and public spaces, footpath condition and aesthetic qualities, may all influence individual’s walking intentions, frequencies and durations. However, despite the cumulating evidence on the effects of the built environment characteristics on people’s walking behaviour, the role of other person-related factors, such as attitudes, perceptions, meanings and place attachment has received much less attention and their connections with the built environment and walking have not been explored in sufficient detail. These factors may significantly shape people’s responses to the built environment. Neglecting the role of these person-related factors in the built environment – walking connections may result in biased results and reveal an incomplete picture of this relationship. In addition, most studies on walking and walkability are based on western contexts and grounded in Euro-American theories and worldviews, and it is timely to incorporate findings and insights derived from non-western settings to consider more cultural- and person-specific factors which may be significant in other socio-cultural contexts. In this thesis, I have employed a mixed-method approach to explore in what ways the built environment and person-related factors influence Chinese urban pedestrians’ walking behaviour and experience, using the case of Shenzhen, a rapidly developing city in China. The thesis presents results and implications from three empirical studies. First, a qualitative study was conducted to explore how pedestrians articulated their daily walking experience using semi-structured interviews. The results demonstrated that the participants’ walking experience and behaviour was a result of complex interactions between the built environment and a range of person-related factors that are embedded in the local socio-cultural context. Based on the findings from the qualitative inquiry, a subsequent quantitative study was conducted to investigate the effects of objective neighbourhood characteristics, perceived built environment, and walking attitudes on people’s walking behaviour. Using logistic regression analyses, significant interaction effects between the objective neighbourhood characteristics, perceived environment, and walking attitudes on the frequency of walking for specific purposes were identified. The findings showed that pedestrians’ walking attitudes could offset the negative effects of the objective neighbourhood environment, and these attitudes contributed positively to people’s walking frequency. Finally, in the third study, it is argued that walkability needs to be understood in a more relational way as emerging from current and past interactions between pedestrians and the environment. Based on this relational understanding of walkability, a multiple-scenario approach was proposed as a means to consider the heterogeneity of pedestrians and account for different situations in walkability assessment. The empirical analyses in the case of Shenzhen revealed that the level of walkability varies significantly between different walkability scenarios. It suggests that the use of multi-scenario approach could offer a multifaceted perspective in walkability assessment. Using a pedestrian-centred perspective, this thesis advances our understanding of the environmental influence on walking in a developing-city context and provides insights to future studies to consider other person-related factors in the built environment – walking relationships.
Original languageEnglish
TypePhD Thesis
PublisherUniversity of Oxford
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Human geography
  • Transportation geography
  • Urban transportation--Planning
  • Geography
  • Urban Studies


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