LIFE-SPACE FOR THE LIFE-SPAN: A MIXED METHODS EXPLORATION OF AGING IN THE ENVIRONMENT
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Aging seniors in Western society face a built environment that challenges wellbeing by progressively limiting their life activity space, excluding increasingly frail individuals from their environments of choice. Further, health effects and their economic consequences, and resource use are interconnected, thus, the disabling impact of most existing built environments must be included in any meaningful discussion of urban sustainability. While there is much research on lifespan development, aging, disability, and environments, there is a gap in the integration of knowledge from across disciplines, and in its availability to designers. The guiding paradigm of this research is Nigel Cross' designerly ways of knowing, an iterative and emergent approach, using abductive reasoning through visualization to represent data and discover relationships. Models of contexts, values, aging, health, sustainability, and person-place relationships were identified in an interdisciplinary literature review and integrated via concept charts. Major elements were mapped using geographic information systems data across a medium sized city to identify neighborhoods of interest from which to recruit cases, and subsequently for data development and analysis of interviews with twenty eight community living seniors. Individuals express strong self-actualization, social dependence, and infrastructure concerns in accessing needed and desired goods, services, activities, and places. Poorly maintained sidewalks, traffic lights, steep hills, long distances to bus stops, long waits for bus and paratransit limited access for non-drivers. Drivers identified traffic, large parking lots, and crime as limitations. Home and property maintenance and estate issues were reasons to give up meaningful homes. Transportation, walking strength, and companionship were most often cited as essential for accessing meaningful places. The lifespan ecologic model emerged through iterative and sequential examination of theoretical models (qualitative), personal experiences (qualitative and quantitative), and geographic data (quantitative). Interviews and spatial analysis clarified the role of person-place processes of meaning, belonging, activity, and time, and integration of values with person-place processes propose a holistic approach to sustainability. This emergent model needs further testing in a variety of locales and age groups, as well as with populations that are not engaged in communities of belonging or meaning.