Aging with a Sense of Place in America

by Philip B. Stafford
Foreword by Scott Russell Sanders


With the first of the Baby Boom generation reaching the milestone of mid-life, the number of Americans in or nearing retirement age is both unprecedented and expanding. With so much emphasis on retirees maintaining good health and active lifestyles, it is also important to think about where they live, and how to make those homes and communities elder-friendly.

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Cover image for Elderburbia

October 2009


Pages 187
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Current Events and Issues/Society

An informed and often moving account of the crucial role of place in the lives of elders and what researchers and city planners are doing—and need to do—to make communities more age-friendly.

Elderburbia: Aging with a Sense of Place in America argues that aging is not about time and the body, but about place and relationships. Drawing on the fascinating, multidisciplinary field of ethnography, it gives readers a deeper understanding of how the aging experience is shaped by where people call home, as well as a look at what makes a place well-suited for post-retirement living.

Elderburbia combines cutting-edge scholarship with practical advice. The book provides an introduction to pivotal research on the broad subject of aging and place, including studies of migration and relocation. It also takes readers inside innovative elder-friendly community planning around the United States, particularly AdvantAge—an initiative to help counties, cities, and towns prepare for the growing number of older adults who are "aging in place," as opposed to moving to retiree-only communities. Everyone from individuals and families to social workers, activists, and city officials will find this a helpful, enlightening resource.


  • 20 individual profiles of community development initiatives and design guidelines for elder-friendly communities, participatory research, and planning methods
  • Excerpts from original ethnographic research on the sense of place and meaning of home, sociability design guidelines, and participation methods
  • Graphics depicting elder-friendly community indicators and four domains of an elder-friendly community
  • An extensive bibliography drawing on sources from anthropology, community planning, gerontology, and the broad literature on sense of place and phenomenology


  • Makes the essential point that where older people live is as crucial as how well they take care of themselves individually
  • Provides the first book-length description of the national movement towards more elder-friendly communities
  • Serves as a practical guide for communities that are planning for the coming age wave
  • Offers a first-rate example of the role that cultural anthropology can play in helping understand and prepare for a major global phenomenon
Author Info

Philip B. Stafford, PhD, is the director of the Center on Aging and Community and the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community and adjunct professor in the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN. Dr. Stafford is a nationally known author, speaker, and consultant on the subject of livable communities for all ages.



"A leader of aging, disability, and community based in Indiana, Stafford contributes only slightly, he says, to fuller discussions elsewhere about how American suburbs will have to be retrofitted for the elderly. His main concern is about the places older people call home, about homemaking in a sense of dwelling and belonging rather than cooking and cleaning. Among his topics are locating old age, memory and the creation of place, aging in third places, new forms of association in old age, and design guidelines for the new elderburbia."Reference & Research Book News

"Elderburbia couldn't be a timelier book, as planning departments across the country are in the process of evaluating the demographics and health and housing needs of their age 65 and older population."Journal of the American Planning Association

"[O]ffers a take on getting old that gets away from the dreary options that dominate popular discourse: fade away, unloved, in a substandard nursing home or exercise hard enough, eat right enough, and save money enough to remain middle-aged up to the end. Stafford argues we should be thinking instead about the importance of place, and he takes a close look at why some places work better than others in helping elders thrive."Indiana Alumni Magazine

"An anthropologist with a folklorist's sensibility, Phil Stafford has written a book that is unique in the literature of gerontology. Folklorists will appreciate Stafford's sensitivity to performance (formulaic speech and genre), artistry, and tradition, as well as the centrality of community and a shared history. . . . Stafford offers an especially thoughtful look at memory as a cultural resource, personal, but perhaps more importantly, shared. . . . This book contains some poignant insights into the experience of aging, particularly in the book's final chapter. . . . [I]t will speak to all of us who care deeply about our place in community, especially as we seek ways to age in place 'in its profound sense'".Journal of Folklore Research

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