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Enacting agency: exploring how older adults shape their neighbourhoods

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 September 2018

Carri Hand*
School of Occupational Therapy, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada Graduate Program in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada
Debbie Laliberte Rudman
School of Occupational Therapy, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada Graduate Program in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada
Suzanne Huot
Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, University of British Columbia, Canada
Rachael Pack
Department of Women's Studies and Feminist Research, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada
Jason Gilliland
Department of Geography, School of Health Studies, Department of Paediatrics and Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada
*Corresponding author. Email:


Within research on ageing in neighbourhoods, older adults are often positioned as impacted by neighbourhood features; their impact on neighbourhoods is less often considered. Drawing on a study exploring how person and place transact to shape older adults’ social connectedness, inclusion and engagement in neighbourhoods, this paper explores how older adults take action in efforts to create neighbourhoods that meet individual and collective needs and wants. We drew on ethnographic and community-based participatory approaches and employed qualitative and geospatial methods with 14 older adults in two neighbourhoods. Analysis identified three themes that described the ways that older adults enact agency at the neighbourhood level: being present and inviting casual social interaction, helping others and taking community action. The participants appeared to contribute to a collective sense of connectedness and creation of social spaces doing everyday neighbourhood activities and interacting with others. Shared territories in which others were present seemed to support such interactions. Participants also helped others in a variety of ways, often relating to gaps in services and support, becoming neighbourhood-based supports for other seniors. Finally, participants contributed to change at the community level, such as engaging politically, patronising local businesses and making improvements in public places. Study findings suggest the potential benefits of collaborating with older adults to create and maintain liveable neighbourhoods.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018

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