Older People's Self–Selected Spaces of Encounter in Urban Aging Environments in the Netherlands

van Melik, R., & Pijpers, R.

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van Melik, R., & Pijpers, R. (2017). Older people's self‐selected spaces of encounter in urban aging environments in the Netherlands. City & Community, 16(3), 284–303.

Using a narrative methodology involving 216 older people in six urban aging environments in the Netherlands, we examined how they use and experience (semi-)public spaces as spaces of encounter, and the meanings they derive from using and experiencing these spaces. The research shows that, first, older people prefer commercial spaces like shopping malls to planned and designed activity spaces in care homes or neighborhood centers. Second, older people struggle with the transformations that have taken place in urban social life since they were young adults. Third, especially frail older people derive meaning from a more passive experience of urban social life, in an observer role. The findings allow us to contribute to ongoing debates on the shifting boundaries between public and private space, and the moral implications of these shifting boundaries from the perspective of a diverse group of older users.

Main finding
The authors find that older people enjoy contact with others in commercial spaces, outdoor public spaces, and indoor shared spaces such as galleries or elevators. Activity and leisure spaces designed specifically for older people are not used as much as intended and sometimes actively avoided. While they seek age diversity in their encounters, older people tend to dislike places that are too diverse and struggle with generational social differences, often feeling anxious among strangers. Older people who may be frail or bedridden find meaningful enjoyment in passive roles, observing public life through the windows of their home. The authors suggest consideration for the elderly when planning for integrated service areas and aging in place.

Description of method used in the article
The paper draws on data from a large-scale study of six integrated service areas, consisting of 216 narrative interviews and surveys on use of space.

Of practical use

Organising categories

Gathering/Socializing Sitting/Relaxing
Interviews Survey
Physical types
Geographic locations