Place-based ageing and social interaction in a Belfast neighbourhood

  • Calum McCormick

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Social and physical disorders arising from global population ageing present acute and formidable challenges for future spatial planners. While the awareness of place-based risk factors for negative phenomena such as social isolation and loneliness is gathering pace, the current understanding of the relationship between perceived neighbourhood characteristics and social interaction is relatively underdeveloped. In particular, little is known about how perception of diverse neighbourhood characteristics in suburban neighbourhoods relates to diverse forms of social interaction, with the argument made that current local spatial planning policy is abstract in its reference to the social wellbeing of older adults. Drawing on a case study located in a south Belfast neighbourhood disaggregated by socio-economic and deprivation characteristics, the thesis investigates opportunities for and barriers to social interaction emerging from neighbourhood characteristics. In attempting to understand this dynamic, the theoretical lens of environmental affordances is adopted as a framework for understanding the transitory and often mobility-dependent nature of the spatial opportunities offered to older adults. Through the use of a comprehensive questionnaire survey with 347 residents, the research investigates the inter-relationships between self-rated mobility, frequency and type of social interaction and perception of neighbourhood quality, applying factor analysis to identify the dominant discourses underlying subjective neighbourhood quality. The analysis indicates that positively rated neighbourhood characteristics related to better mobility and higher frequencies of diverse modes of social interaction. Through follow-up interviews with public health and planning policy and practice, the research uncovers a reluctance around the concept of age-specific planning policy, underscored by an adherence to spatial equality. Accordingly, the thesis uses the results of the survey to suggest a series of short term and long-term recommendations for planning policy and practice which instead aim to improve spatial equity for older adults through the provision of better environmental maintenance, access to greenspace, the reduction of car dependency and the rethinking of in-neighbourhood housing options. Finally, it is recommended that urban planning scholars give more credence to socio-spatial affordances experienced by older adults in suburban neighbourhoods.

Thesis embargoed until 31 December 2026.
Date of AwardDec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorAileen Stockdale (Supervisor) & Urmi Sengupta (Supervisor)


  • Ageing
  • ageing in place
  • social interaction
  • wellbeing
  • neighbourhood
  • older adults
  • social isolation
  • place-based ageing

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