Cities of (In)Difference: A Mixed-Methods Analysis of Place and Wellbeing In Later Life

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Cities of (In)Difference: A Mixed-Methods Analysis of Place and Wellbeing In Later Life

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Where one lives constitutes an important determinant of health and quality of later life. Yet few studies to date focus explicitly on the everyday experiences, contexts, and needs of individuals to age well within their physical and social environments. While aging in place represents a widespread goal of individuals, service providers, and policymakers, it remains an ambiguous, problematic, and uncritical concept. This can have devastating consequences as it is frequently applied with little consideration of the places themselves. This study investigated aging in a harsh continental climate with a strong focus on underrepresented low-income and racially diverse older adults. Three case study areas across the Minneapolis (Minnesota, USA) metropolitan area purposefully contrasted socio-demographic and geographic characteristics. Seated and mobile interviews were conducted with independent-dwelling men and women (n=125, mean age 71 years) from May to October, 2015. A geospatial audit evaluated participants’ homes at the dwelling, street, and neighborhood level. Ethnography with six participants over twelve months (September, 2015 – August, 2016) and semi-structured interviews with ten local policymakers and community service providers (May – October, 2016) deepened understanding. The findings depict how built, social, and natural environments contribute to aging in very particular ways. Older bodies literally express structured advantages and disadvantages of their surrounding contexts. Aging in place efforts can exacerbate the deeply uneven conditions of American cities and the vulnerabilities of those aging ‘in the margins’. Theoretical analyses unpack and unsettle discourses about aging in order to address problematic assumptions, blind spots, and unchallenged and unconsidered modes of thought upon which geography rests. The chapters engage political, economic, feminist, critical race, disability, health, and urban theories to enrich not only geographic scholarship, but also the lives of older adults. The dissertation destabilizes the foundations of age-friendly governance and generates novel possibilities for more just and inclusive modes of urban form. It creates more room for alternative ways of ‘being in the world’ based upon a richer understanding of people, place, and space across the life course.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. 2018. Major: Geography. Advisor: Susan Craddock. 1 computer file (PDF); 247 pages.

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Finlay, Jessica. (2018). Cities of (In)Difference: A Mixed-Methods Analysis of Place and Wellbeing In Later Life. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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