Being a Child on a Car Free Island: Exploring Independent Mobility and Children’s Perception in Büyükada-Istanbul



independent mobility, active mobility, Child Friendly Cities, child perception, children’s urban mobility




The United Nations (2020) emphasizes that more than 50% of the world's population will live in cities in 2050. Approximately 1/3 of this population consists of children. cities that are developed on motor vehicle-oriented urban transportation policies have vital effects on the environment and urban residents; when it comes to children, it prevents their healthy growth, safe and free movement, also weakens their relationship with the city. The scale of urban environments expands due to highways and motorized vehicle traffic, while the negative effects of exhaust gases and asphalt-covered surfaces on child growth are increasing as well as the spatial and social disconnections. On the contrary, the areas where children can walk safely, play and experience the city freely decrease day by day. Settlements that serve for children’s safe and free movement are important for the healthy development of children, adult urban residents of the future, who will demand a high quality of life, strong social interaction and environmentally friendly settlements of future. 

The Child-Friendly Cities approach defines independent mobility / freedom of mobility of children as one of the main goals. At this point, developing sustainable urban mobility policies, supporting the active and independent mobility of children in their daily lives, making cities car-free, reducing and slowing down traffic, and expanding sustainable and active transportation types are considered as important steps for creating child-friendly environments. 

With its 16 million residents, Istanbul is the most crowded city of Turkey (TÜİK, 2023). The metropolitan area is shaped by variety of urban typologies from different historical periods, diverse lifestyles, and heavy traffic load of transportation. Experiencing the Istanbul metropolitan area as a child has difficulties, such as lack of accessibility to amenities, dependency on vehicle urban mobility, large scale physical environment challenging for cognitive mapping. On the contrary, Büyükada Island in the Sea of Marmara defines a unique alternative due to its low-density urbanization, accessible services, strong urban identity and car-free transportation. As the largest island district of Istanbul Metropolitan area, Büyükada offers a great potential for children and adults, in terms of creating a child-friendly environment and freedom of movement.  

 The purpose of the study is to discover the mobility of children in a car-free area and to understand the effects of freedom of mobility on perception of space. Within this scope, spatial components of children’s perception about the place they live in and the relation with their mobility types were determined. As the methodology, “mind mapping” used for exploring children's free mobility through drawings and written expressions, ”walk-along" used for discovering children's perceptions of Büyükada in situ. Field work was carried out with 20 students of 9–10-years-, living on the Island and studying at Büyükada Primary School. 

This paper discusses the findings of the field study that shows children's school journeys are mostly made by active transportation modes such as walking and cycling, as individuals or accompanied by their siblings / friends, rather than by their families. In their out-of-school activities, most of the children can perform independent activities such as playing on the street / in the park, going to sports, or wandering around the city center, alone or with groups of friends. For this reason, their developed perception of space allows them to describe the details of space and find their way. In addition, their spatial perceptions vary in terms of their mobility patterns and durations, location of their homes, distances to the center, and differentiate according to the variety of urban elements they encounter every day. These findings from a car-free settlement can be promising for strengthening the policies for building a child-friendly urban future.   


The United Nations (2020) ‘World Cities Report 2020: The Value of Sustainable Urbanization’. Available at: (Accessed: 22 January 2024).

TÜİK (2022) ‘Adrese Dayalı Nüfus Kayıt Sistemi Sonuçları 2022’. Available at: (Accessed: 06 December 2023).