(Un)therapeutic white space: Snow and ice impacts on perceived well-being among older Minnesotans

Authors: Jessica Finlay*, University of Minnesota
Topics: Medical and Health Geography, Landscape, Qualitative Research
Keywords: Well-being, aging, nature, winter, weather, snow, ice, therapeutic landscapes, health geography, qualitative methods
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Estherwood, Sheraton, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Therapeutic landscapes represent a lively field of inquiry in health geography. The health benefits of green and blue spaces feature prominently across this literature, and generate rich understanding of how it feels to encounter and move through natural environments. Juxtaposed against an abundant scholarship on green and blue (and growing attention to broader ‘palettes of place’ including grey and brown landscapes), white spaces – environmental snow and ice – have yet to be investigated. Research on everyday experiences of snow and ice is limited, particularly for older adults potentially more vulnerable to climactic conditions given health and mobility limitations. This study aimed to characterize impacts of white spaces on the perceived well-being of older adults. Interviews were conducted with community-dwelling men and women (n=125, mean age 71 years) in the Minneapolis metropolitan area from June to October, 2015. Extended participant observation with a sub-sample of participants (n=6, mean age 71 years) was conducted from September 2015 to August 2016. Qualitative thematic analyses of participant statements, experiences, and understandings of winter weather conditions illuminated how white spaces can both promote and diminish physical, mental, and social well-being. White spaces were fluid and relational, with potentially therapeutic effects uniquely negotiated by each participant. The findings conceive of therapeutic landscapes as contradictory spaces that can be simultaneously healthy and harmful. The paper enriches knowledge of how (un)therapeutic landscapes operate through dynamic, embodied, and emotional geographic experiences. Articulations of ambiguity and nuance inherent to therapeutic landscapes deepen understanding of environmental health.

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