How do older people aged 60 and beyond struggle, survive, and thrive in 21st century urban America? We know belonging matters for elders but less about how, why, and what facilitates it. How do older people maintain their independence when faced with multiple vulnerabilities? What forms of social relationships exist? How do older people create or resist belonging? In what ways does belonging to a place or a group help people manage crises and everyday challenges?

My current research investigates these questions by drawing on five years of ethnographic fieldwork among older adults in a gentrified New York City neighborhood. To understand the lived experience of aging in place, I conducted a five-year ethnographic study and followed my participants as they coped with the accumulated losses of neighbors, friends, and family, health setbacks, depression, financial struggles, and gentrification that threatened the neighborhood places where they developed the social support and ties that helped them maintain their independence.

I have been selected by the University at Albany’s Institute for History and Community Engagement as a Community Fellow for the 2017-18 academic year. My fellowship project will expand my research on aging in place to focus on minority and immigrant elders in Albany, a growing segment of the older population in the state and nationwide.  My research will examine how aging-related problems intersect with urban challenges, such as affordable housing, poverty, public transportation, crime, gentrification, urban blight and city services such as snow removal.

I am also in the early stages of laying groundwork for my next ethnographic project, a study of people with serious mental illness living in the San Francisco Bay Area. This research will seek to understand how participants experience illness and stigma, develop and sustain social ties and social support, use public and mental health program spaces to form community, and negotiate family relationships often strained by the challenges of obtaining high quality psychiatric treatment and services.