2018 - Research

Adapting School Siting to School Choice and Compact City Policies

Built environment factors that promote active school commutes (i.e., proximity to public transport, walkability) should be considered when making decisions about school siting.

Key takeaway:

  • Built environment factors that promote active school commutes (i.e., proximity to public transport, walkability) should be considered when making decisions about school siting. New policies affecting school siting in Sweden that remove considerations about where schools are sited relative to where students live has increased distances from students’ homes to schools. This, in turn, has reduced students’ active commuting.
  • Results:

    • City planners in Sweden attempt to adhere to compact city policies (denser cities that promote more public transport, walking, and bicycling). However, the development principles of compact, dense, and mixed-use land do not explicitly address how to integrate schools with the built environment. The combination of building much larger schools (to accommodate more students) and high-density development contributes to difficulties in finding land for schools close to where children live.  This has resulted in longer and farther commutes for some students, which has resulted in more parents to drive their children to school instead of allowing them to have active commutes.
    • Consistent with findings from an earlier study of 11 municipalities in Sweden and observations in the United States, distances from children’s homes to schools have been increasing because municipalities are prioritizing bigger schools (which require more land that tends to be farther away from where people live) instead of diverse, well-integrated schools.
    • In Sweden, local governments are increasingly siting schools for children aged 13-15 in attractive, central locations. Meanwhile, they are siting schools for children aged 6-12 on proximity to the home, given that younger children have more mobility constraints.
    • School planners tend to avoid siting schools in socially stigmatized neighborhoods and in urban peripheries out of fear that the location will make the school unattractive to parents and students. As a result of these school-siting decisions, central districts are benefiting from an increasing supply of schools while peripheral districts are experiencing a declining supply. This lengthens the commutes for students in socially stigmatized neighborhoods and urban peripheries since the schools they attend are farther from where they live.
    • Swedish school planners, facility planners, and town planners have vague criterion for proximity to and from school. They lack quantitative metrics for appropriate (walking) distance between schools and public transport or schools and home.
    • The author concludes that the overall implication for planners and decision makers is that school siting must be better integrated with strategic urban planning in order to maintain reasonable distances between schools and homes to encourage children to have active school commutes.

    Implications:

    • As school districts and cities consider school-choice policies and other policies that affect the location of schools, Safe Routes to School advocates can play a proactive and influential role in educating decision-makers about how distance to schools can be a barrier for students’ active commuting. Safe Routes to School advocates can encourage that distance to school is a consideration in any school siting decisions.

    Methods:

    • The author examined strategic planning documents and conducted semi-structured interviews with 17 local government officials in five fast growing municipalities in Sweden (Stockholm, Goteborg, Malmo, Uppsala, and Linkoping).

    Westford, P. (2018). Adapting School Siting to School Choice and Compact City Policies. International Journal of Sustainable Development Planet, 13(2).