Professor Karen Witten

M Sc (Hons), Dip Clin Psych, PhD (Geography)


Centre for Social and Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation (SHORE)

Massey University Auckland


Karen is a social scientist with research interests that centre on interactions between the physical characteristics of cities and neighbourhoods and the social relationships, transport choices and well being of the people living in them. Much of her recent work has involved the application of GIS to examine spatial inequities in access to services and amenities and the impact of differential access on health outcomes and transport choices; and relationships between neighbourhood urban design, public transport accessibility and residents' physical activity for transport and leisure. She has also conducted research on the place of schools in neighbourhood social environments and the impacts of school closure on the wellbeing of children, families and communities.

An additional research interest in recent years has related to the social science workforce. In 2006 and 2009 Karen led national surveys of the University-based social science workforce in New Zealand on behalf of the BRCSS network to build an understanding of its demographic features, capacity and capabilities, areas of research activity and translation as well as the personal, professional and institutional incentives and barriers to research participation.

Karen is a lead researcher in the Resilient Urban Futures programme, on residential choice and community formation.

Video of Karen discussing the book Growth misconduct? Avoiding sprawl and improving urban intensification in New Zealand

Kids in the city

More information and contact details


Development of a systems model to visualise the complexity of children's independent mobility Children's Geographies, 2016, 14:1
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Kids in the city: Children's use and experiences of urban neighbourhoods in Auckland, New ZealandJournal of Urban Design, June 2015
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Could strength of exposure to the residential neighbourhood modify associations between walkability and physical activity? Social Science and Medicine, 2015, 147, 232-241
Urban inclusion as wellbeing: Exploring children's accounts of confronting diversity on inner city streets Social Science and Medicine, 2015, 133, 349-357
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Increasing active travel: Results of a quasi-experimental study of an intervention to encourage walking and cyclingJournal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 2015, 69, 1184-1190
The societal costs and benefits of commuter bicycling: Simulating the effects of specific policies using system dynamics modelingEnviron Health Perspect. (2014)
What constitutes a trip? Examining child journey attributes using GPS and self-reportChildren’s Geographies, 12:2, 249-256 (2014)
Environmental and socio-demographic associates of children's active transport to school: A cross-sectional investigation from the URBAN StudyInternational Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 11:70, 2014
Kids in the city: Differing perceptions of one neighbourhood in Aotearoa / New ZealandIn R Coles & Z Millman (Eds.), Landscape, Wellbeing and Environment, London: Routledge, 2013
New Zealand parents' understandings of the intergenerational decline in children's independent outdoor play and active travelChildren's Geographies, 2013
Managed childhoods: A social history of urban children's playIn N. Higgins & C. Freeman (Eds.), Childhoods: Growing up in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Dunedin, Otago University Press, 2013
Association of neighbourhood residence and preferences with the built environment, work-related travel behaviours, and health implications for employed adults: Findings from the URBAN studySocial Science and Medicine (2012)
The New Zealand index of neighbourhood social fragmentation: integrating theory and dataEnvironment and Planning A. 2012, 44:972-88
GIS based destination accessibility via public transit and walking in Auckland, New ZealandJournal of Transport Geography, 2012, 20(1):15-22
Housing intensification in Auckland New Zealand: Implications for children and familiesHousing Studies, 2011, 26(3): 353-367
Social and recreational travel: the destinations, travel modes and CO2 emissions of New Zealand householdsSocial Policy Journal of New Zealand, 2011, 37, 172-184
Growth misconduct? Avoiding sprawl and improving urban intensification in New ZealandWellington, New Zealand Centre for Sustainable Cities, University of Otago, 2011
Geographies of obesity: Environmental understandings of the obesity epidemicAshgate, London (eds) (2010)
Reducing CO2 emissions from domestic travel: Exploring the social and health impactsEcoHealth, 2008, 5(4): 504
Neighbourhood access to open spaces and the physical activity of residents: a national studyPreventive Medicine, 2008, 47, 299-303