How do unfamiliar environments convey meaning to older people? Urban dimensions of placelessness and attachment

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Judith Phillips
Nigel Walford
Ann Hockey


The discussion within gerontology of the relationship between older people and their environment (place attachment and ageing in place in particular) has been based on an assumption of familiarity with place. Yet increasingly older people experience unfamiliar environments. This can be through increased travelling as tourists and visitors to other towns and cities, through redevelopment of town centres or through cognitive decline, where the familiar becomes unfamiliar. This article reviews the conceptual frameworks underpinning the concepts of place attachment and unfamiliarity and questions the relevance of such concepts for understanding urban lifestyles in later life. We demonstrate that even in an unfamiliar environment older people can develop a sense of place through the aesthetics and usability of the environment as well as through shared memories. Consequently this has relevance for how we plan our environments to make them age-friendly.


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