The following research is based on literature and projects spanning 1961 to 2002, focusing on urban children and their usage and perception of, as well as relation to, the leisure environment. The importance of this relationship has been clearly highlighted in an international arena by the "Herten Conference" (1990) and the "Growing Up in Cities Project" (GUIC) [1972 to 2001], as well as studies by Lynch (1977), Hart (1979), Moore (1986) and Malone (2000). However there are few modem studies. In particular studies of children's use of leisure space in inner city Australia are missing.
The literature is covered in many disciplines, however the main topics that emerge are, home range (and the impact of traffic) and the role parents play in their children's interactions with the neighbourhood. Research also considers the way the individual background of children influences their leisure interactions. In particular, gender, ethnicity and socio-economic status are raised as potentially determining forces in the child-environment interaction.
Previous research shows that perceptions of leisure influence behaviour. However, children's perceptions have not been studied. Therefore the need for the present study addressing the importance of perception through children's demographic characteristics was clearly shown. This research provides new information upon which other studies can progress, an empirical analysis of the topic, and a tool to provide information for those who work with environments and cities.
The exploratory study was conducted by surveying year six children and parents in inner city Sydney schools. A questionnaire for both the child and parental sample was constructed, based on relevant literature.
The study aims to empirically examine the perception of the leisure environment. Perception is measured using a combination of open-ended questions (what children want) and item-batteries (how they are affected by what exists). These responses are analysed to produce a picture of the way these children and their parents perceive the leisure environment. This picture of perception is then further explored through an investigation of the effects demographic variables have on it.
The results were assessed in three chapters. Firstly the open-ended and item-battery results were described and following this factor analysis, Cronbach's alpha were employed to construct indexes based on the item-batteries. The second results chapter utilized bivariate analysis to explore the relationship between the indexes and demographic characteristics. The final results chapter explored the independent influences of the demographic characteristics on the indexes by regressing each index on the four demographic characteristics of the child sample.
The study found that children perceived the inner city as a positive environment, however they saw environmental issues, especially social issues, as impediments to their engagement. A direct assessment of the importance of negative and positive features of the environment as hindering or promoting outdoor play for children found that negative features were a stronger predictor of action than positive features. It was discovered that the impact these negative features had on children's willingness to play outside was clearly related to their membership of demographic groups. Gender produced a mild effect with girls slightly more likely to feel hindered due to negative features. However the main difference was found to be due to socio-economic status with children of a higher socio-economic status feeling much less restricted by negative environmental features. Regression analysis showed these effects to exist independently of each other.