Book Review: “Independent for Life”

INDEPENDENT FOR LIFE: Homes and Neighborhoods for an Aging America
Ed. by Henry Cisneros, Margaret Dyer Chamberlain, and Jane Hickie
(University of Texas Press, 2012)

By Marguerite Langlois

Independent for LifeIndependent for Life is many things: source book, report on research, practical guide, discussion of issues, and conversation starter. It does all those things well, and its title just happens to be one of the main goals for our PNA Village!

Cisneros, Chamberlain, and Hickie have done something long overdue. They have researched, gathered ideas, worked with a number of individual authors, and talked with people all over the country to find out what is really needed for healthy, engaged living for seniors, and to see what’s missing, what’s not working, and especially what is working. As a result, you can look at any few pages in the book and find ideas that you can use or which you might want to discuss with others. And because the book was written just last year, it takes into consideration the added stresses brought by the recession.

There is clearly a great deal of creativity, time, innovation, and effort happening in many places in the country, and this book is the first effort of its kind to put them together and share them.

The book has 5 sections: Independence and successful longevity, demographics and challenges, housing and services, homes as we age, neighborhoods, and strategies for change. Each section discusses issues, solutions, and real experiences and examples of what’s happening. There’s also an excellent 10-page reference section, including connections with local, state, and national agencies, as well as the many other groups mentioned in the book.

I do have one problem with the book – one that is unfortunately true for a lot written about aging: the book speaks in what I call “they” language. It talks about, not with, seniors, as “this group” that needs help and will affect our neighborhoods, our cities, our societies as a whole, rather than using language that includes the voices of seniors. That said, however, this is one of the most hopeful and creative books yet published on aging independently in our neighborhoods and communities. There is clearly a great deal of creativity, time, innovation, and effort happening in many places in the country, and this book is the first effort of its kind to put them together and share them.

And the best part for us “villagers”? We know we are actually participating in it! We are building a community, creating chances to help and be helped, making social connections. What about you? What has the village meant for you in these first few months of its existence?


Find this book!

Seattle Public Library:




Speaking of how we age, and how we participate, your intrepid book reviewer will be teaching a class at Greenwood Senior Center called “Does Aging Have a Future?” starting in March.

When did “aging” become a separate phase of life? What was it like being old several centuries ago? How did a rising middle class, the Industrial Revolution, the Depression, and world wars change concepts of aging? We’ll explore how ideas and images and ideas about aging have changed and developed over time. Then we’ll look at our own ancestors. We’ll finish by talking about how we ourselves are creating and changing what it means to age. Interesting questions and discussions included!

The class will be Wednesdays, March 1 through March 22, 1:00 – 2:30; $15. Call or email GSC to RSVP; drop-ins welcome.


Marguerite Langlois has over 40 years of education experience with community and church groups, businesses, and individuals. While she was teaching at Shoreline Community College, she designed and taught a program titled “Engaging Aging,” on topics important to all of us as we age. Marguerite currently does part-time classes for staff training and development at the University of Washington, as well as continuing her classes on aging. There’s nothing she likes better than a lively group where learning is shared and enjoyable.

Marguerite is a member of PNA, the PNA Village, and GSC.


5 thoughts on “Book Review: “Independent for Life”

  1. Thank you Marguerite for sifting through the many books out there about the aging process. It’s a bit overwhelming. I’ve reserved this book from the Seattle Public Library (very handy having a link at the end of the article!)

  2. Aging is a “lifelong” process (sounds like a joke, but it’s true!). Being part of the PNA Village has made me more hopeful about the future, knowing I can count on my community as I slowly get to a point where things don’t come as easy to me as they used to. I’m grateful to be a part of it. And grateful for book reviews like these!

    • Agreed, Alyssa. Part of what we miss out on as neighborhoods increasingly turn to similar age/similar income brackets is the depth of experience offered by older members of our communities. Modeling is key to “growing up” and without active, older folks living alongside us we miss out on so many fundamental human experiences. We all need guides at every age!

  3. Thanks for this book review, Marguerite. I am definitely going to get it and read it. And, I really like your last paragraph — we are indeed participating and that is exciting.

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