Research Statement

My background in design shapes my view of research as a responsibility to ask critical questions, investigate complex problems, and discover new knowledge. I value the platform of research for the ability to investigate problems of social, environmental and health justice which challenge the larger, collective project of architecture. Given the significant impact that environments have on health and wellbeing, particularly for socio-economically disadvantaged and marginalized people, I believe there is an obligation within the realm of research to advance design intelligence that contributes to positive social impacts for people of all backgrounds.


Collaborative processes are foundational to my research processes. I was hired through the Transforming Excellence Program (TEP) at the University of Utah which brings faculty from various fields together to generate scholarship around complex societal needs.  My appointment to the TEP cluster focused on Resilient Places & Healthy Aging aligns with my interest in the connections between design, health and place. I collaborate with colleagues in the College of Social Work, College of Nursing and School of Medicine; I also work closely with colleagues in the City & Metropolitan Planning and Multi-Disciplinary Design programs inside the College of Architecture & Planning to produce scholarship. I am committed to mentoring students through my research activities, and have engaged students in fields of Architecture, Sociology, Social Work and Planning as co-investigators and co-authors in my work.


My research focuses on discovery, integration and application of new knowledge to design for health across the lifespan. A goal of my scholarship is to advance human health through an understanding of how the built environment contributes to aging well in a variety of scales and settings. My work has resulted in 5 peer-reviewed articles in high ranking journals including Ageing & Society, Journal of Applied Gerontology (JAG), International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, and Health Environments Research & Design Journal (HERD); I am the first author of 2 additional articles have been accepted for publication in peer-reviewed journals and are in final stages of editing. In 2022, I co-chaired the symposium “Age-friendly Communities as Platforms for Equity, Health & Wellness” at the University of Utah which created the foundation for a book which has been accepted for publication by Springer, Age-friendly Ecosystems: Expanding Equity in Aging through Community Places & Practices. In addition, I have co-authored a chapter, “Autonomy, Identity and Design in the COVID-Era,” in the book (Re)designing the Continuum of Care for Older Adults: The Future of Long-Term Care Settings. I also served as the faculty advisor for an undergraduate student in the College of Behavioral Sciences and supported the digital publication of her Honors thesis “‘Everything I Really Wanted to Do:’ Aging in Place During the Pandemic.”


This work is timely and significant because the places we live were not designed for the massive demographic shift underway, where the population of adults aged 60+ is expected to double between the year of 2010 and the year 2050. Nor were places designed for zip codes to be more accurate predictors of life expectancy than DNA codes. Health disparities tied to the places we live are not ‘natural’ phenomena but a result of social, political and economic constructions, within which architecture and design play a significant role. Inequities in social, environmental and health justice compound with the pressures of rapid population aging, and point to an urgent need to advance scholarship that investigates dimensions of design as it shapes socio-environmental determinants of health across the lifespan. My work is located in the context of these challenges, and I examine the dynamics between design and health on multiple levels. This guides the research I conduct to investigate design related to public health, mental health, intergenerational design and age-friendly places.


Two topics are central to my body of research: 1) Aging in place and 2) Age-friendly communities. The following sections describe the significance of my research contributions in these areas.


Aging in place


A dramatic set of environmental and social changes precipitated during the pandemic, and have altered experiences and understandings of what it means to age in place. Factors such as increased home confinement, social isolation and a rapid reliance on digital technologies have consequences that impact the health and wellbeing of older adults. At the same time, negative attitudes and biases toward aging have escalated at an alarming rate, as evidenced through age-based resource allocation policies in healthcare settings and ageist hash tags on social media such as #boomerremover and #elderrepeller. These challenges point to questions that fundamentally compel us to reconsider how to design for aging well: How do we understand a new set of physical and social conditions that create frameworks for aging in place? What is the role of design in charting a new frontier for aging in place?


To address this knowledge gap and to advance productive discourse on aging well, I was awarded a grant through the Office of the Vice President for Research to serve as the Primary Investigator on the project “From Sheltered in Place to Thriving in Place: Investigating Dimension of Aging in a ‘Right’ Place during the Pandemic.” The goal of the research is to understand ways that older adults adapted to changes in the physical environment during the height of pandemic restrictions, and to gain insight into how changes to places people live, work, worship, and recreate inform future priorities that may be designed to support aging in place.


The study is innovative in being designed around two different participatory research methods in order to garner knowledge directly from older adults and aging service providers. We engaged older adults in the Salt Lake Valley to contribute through photovoice, a qualitative research method that allowed participants to take pictures of their daily living environments and describe what supports or hinders their sense of aging in a ‘right’ place. In parallel, we designed a World Café series to engage aging service providers in the Salt Lake Valley in a series of structured conversations in order to understand supportive factors, service gaps and future needs for aging well in the context of pandemic conditions. We adapted the platforms for both research methods, which are traditionally conducted in person, to be virtual due to pandemic-related restrictions to gathering at the time of data collection.


Impactful findings from this research include the way older adults self-defined ‘place’ to be well-beyond house and home, even in pandemic lockdown conditions. Design characteristics of neighborhood blocks, community gardens and public transportation destinations point to the importance of diversity and individual agency within spaces. Findings also point to the significance of intergenerational design, or ways that spaces promote an intentional interaction between older and younger people. The research also created a platform for participants to share experiences from their own ‘sheltered’ perspectives with others, as we designed and published an online gallery of photos and narratives which celebrates the diversity of ways people discovered to adapt the places they were aging in place in order to experience a sense of ‘thriving’ in place.  


In parallel to the photovoice data collection, we conducted research to understand a complementary view of how environments are key to support aging in place by aging service providers in a three-part World Café dialogue session. Emergency preparedness and design aspects that support disaster relief were emphasized in these conversations, as well as concerns about supporting social connection and mental health. The process of conducting critical dialogue about this mix of new needs supported a petition which was later made by the Utah Commission on Aging (UCOA) to the Utah State Legislature to create a statewide Master Plan on Aging.


Our work has been published in internationally esteemed, peer-reviewed journals. Additionally, I presented our research at the annual Environmental Design and Research Association (EDRA) Conference in May 2022, and have been invited to share our work at an international, peer-reviewed forum held virtually in July 2023. Our team contributed posters on this work at the University of Utah’s annual Center for Aging Conference. Honors student Natalie Caylor, a co-investigator and co-author of papers and posters, received funding through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) to organize data and create the website for the digital photovoice gallery. This research has served as pilot data to support a current project “Nature RX: Exploring barriers and facilitators to implementing nature-based health interventions for older adults,” which builds upon our work with photovoice-based qualitative research methods to visually and narratively understand the connections between landscapes, gardens and health. Finally, the work has highlighted questions related to affordability and access of housing, which contributed to the proposal “Exploring intergenerational home sharing through social, economic and health lenses.” I believe the momentum of both these projects and publications, as well as the process of interdisciplinary collaboration with colleagues, will contribute to future research activities.


Age-friendly communities


The concept of age-friendly places has grown from an idea about cities and urbanization launched by the World Health Organization in 2006 into a social movement that recognizes the diversity of older adult populations, and integrates research, policy, programming and design practices. Current crises around housing, mental health and climate change are escalating, impacting young and old alike. The entwinement between place, aging and health compels a number of questions at a broader scale: How can age friendly places be designed to promote healthy, equitable and productive aging accessible to all, and not just the privileged few? What processes are effective to design for a wider web of support for older adults, and to reflect the heterogeneity and diversity of the aging adult population?


To address this knowledge gap and to advance interdisciplinary dialogue about age-friendly ecosystems, I collaborated with Professor Linda Edelman in the College of Nursing to design the symposium “Age-friendly Communities as Platforms for Health, Equity and Wellness” that investigated emergent and transformative environments including age-friendly neighborhoods, campuses and health environments. Challenges that are specific to the Western US were considered within the design of these three place-based settings as the region hosts a variety of flagship issues including extreme population growth, rapid environmental degradation and lack of affordability.  We integrated contributions from internationally recognized experts with regional and civic leaders in order to generate research scholarship, educational material and advocacy through the symposium.


The work is innovative because it is the first of its kind to consider connections between age-friendly neighborhoods, campuses and health systems within the Intermountain West, a geographic region which is uniquely faced with rapidly growing urban and suburban areas and large pockets of rurality. Additionally, we were intentional to design the symposium to catalyze exchanges between people with different disciplinary backgrounds in local government, planning and design, health and education. We did this to address one of the biggest challenges within age-friendly work, which is to promote exchange and to catalyze knowledge generation that draws from people in urban, suburban and rural communities. An important component to the symposium was a student ideas competition. Thirteen student teams from four different institutions of higher education submitted ‘shark tank’ inspired idea pitches to the ‘Koi Pond’ ideas competition we created. We also engaged a graphic artist to record visual notes from the symposium, and created a webpage to make resources freely available.


This is timely and significant because widespread social, environmental and health injustices, compounded with the rapidly aging population, point to a need for new scholarship examining dimensions of age-friendly communities as they shape socio-environmental determinants of health and wellness and reach historically marginalized or underserved people. Conversations and initiatives cannot afford to stay siloed within academic, professional or education circles, and the process as well as products of the symposium contribute to advancing connections across disciplines. Students from all majors and backgrounds benefit from exposure to broader issues that are radically transforming the demographics of the global population.


As co-chairs of the symposium, Linda and I were invited to share our work to a national group of federally funded researchers through Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA). We also submitted an abstract for peer-review to present at the annual Gerontological Society of America (GSA) Conference in November 2023. Finally, we submitted a book proposal to Springer which was accepted, and we are currently working toward a 2024 publication deadline. The book will be written for a wide audience, with the intention of broadening a shared language and understanding of 1) what constitutes age-friendliness within different place types, 2) how emergent design processes and practices effectively promote equity and inclusion, and 3) what future strategies are being deployed to work toward a larger ‘ecosystem’ perspective of age-friendliness within communities. I believe this will advance future work which brings attention to the realm of design in the context of global demographic transformation and population aging.


Synthesis & future goals in research


My scholarly work is significant in connecting the realm of architecture and design with the questions and challenges related to population aging and health. Two topic areas which I would like to address in future work involve exploring ageism and ableism within the built environment, as well as the role of design in the realm of mental health across the lifespan. I am committed to further expanding the dissemination of knowledge and potential for application to the architecture and design community. There is important work to be done in further connecting the realm of research in health and design with education as well, and I believe my work will continue to make positive contributions in creating these bridges through research, scholarship and societal impact.

Research Keywords

  • Sustainable Design
  • Environmental Health
  • Environment and Human Health
  • Architecture
  • Architectural Design
  • Age Friendly

Research Groups

  • Design Institute for Health Resilience, Research Professor. University of Utah. 05/19/2023 - present.
  • Healthy Aging Resilient Places (HARP) Lab, Research Professor. University of Utah Center on Aging. 07/01/2021 - present.
  • Center on Aging, Research Professor. 09/14/2020 - present.

Creative Research

  • Design Drawings & Proposal for a renovation to the women's area at the Pacific Garden Mission, the oldest homeless shelter in the City of Chicago. Adaptation, submitted 03/26/2021.
  • Exterior facade renovation study for a mid-century modern home Commission, completed 02/03/2020.


  • Co-Producing Knowledge about Age-Friendly Places: Perspectives from the Intermountain West As the twin forces of population aging and rapid urbanization transform the dynamics between places and health, we recognize new modes of collaborative research are needed to reflect the heterogeneity of older adults and diversity of environments where people live. The concept of age-friendly places has grown from a framework around cities into a social movement that has manifested into a multitude of settings including age-friendly campuses, health systems, businesses and neighborhoods. There is need in the context of local cultures to engage older adults in co-producing knowledge about broader ecosystems of age-friendly environments. In parallel, there is need on a global scale to broaden an understanding and use of participatory methods which are inclusive of historically marginalized and underserved older adults. Underlying these needs at both local and global scales is an urgency for cross-cultural, comparative research to measure outcomes and improve the livability of places for aging. This paper is structured around a rapid review of community-based participatory research methods designed to engage older adults in co-producing knowledge about age-friendly environments. Authors draw from their interdisciplinary backgrounds in architecture, planning and social work in order to provide an overview of participatory processes which recast older adults as active participants in co-producing visions for age-friendly places. We draw from our own work in the Intermountain West, where a number of flagship issues intersect with the prospects of creating age-friendly places including affordable housing, environmental degradation, and mental health crises. Focus is directed at co-creation methods which destabilize traditional, top-down approaches to placemaking, and address the widening of economic, social and health disparities by engaging marginalized and underserved populations of older adults. Conference Paper, Refereed, Presented, 12/04/2023.
  • Building Age-friendly Ecosystems Through Neighborhoods, Health Systems and Campuses Age friendliness has grown from an idea into a social movement that recognizes diversity among older adults, and integrates multidisciplinary work in research, policy, planning and design. Contemporary challenges related to housing affordability, mental health and climate change underscore dramatic disparities among older adults. Increasingly we see evidence of ways that places and policies have dire impacts on aging, particularly for historically marginalized and underserved populations of older adults. This paper reports findings from a symposium that examines age friendliness from a place-based approach by examining neighborhoods, campuses and health environments as sites uniquely positioned to catalyze equity in aging. The symposium was convened in order to consider how age friendly environments are addressing urgent social, environmental and health challenges, and creating measurable outcomes that promote aging well for all. Knowledge was generated through a series of methods at the symposium including lectures, panel discussions, a world café, focus group discussions, and a student-ideas competition; outcomes include a website, a collaboration resource guide and a forthcoming book. Key findings focus on the benefits of shared language and metrics across place-types that can be applied to collectively transform the social, physical and economic landscape of aging. Implications to radically re-imagining the partnerships and cross-over between place types are significant not just to designing age-inclusive places and policies, but ultimately to creating an ecosystem that embraces longevity as an asset and advances equity in aging. Other, Accepted, 11/01/2023.
  • Design for Intergenerational Aging: A Multidisciplinary Approach - This session highlights a design investigation into intergenerational design that was conducted through collaboration with the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging at Washington University in St. Louis and the Sau Po Centre for Aging at Hong Kong University. Both provided multidisciplinary perspectives, support, and feedback for the design process. Several themes emerged including adaptability and flexibility. The social and cultural dimensions related to stereotypes, diversity, and inclusivity ranged, and the cross-cultural comparison between dynamics in St. Louis and Hong Kong provided rich territory for dialogue and exchange. Presentation, Presented, 09/20/2021.
  • Co-Diagnosis: Designing for Behavioral and Physical Health; Presentation to the Healthcare Design Conference (HDC) in collaboration with Emily Johnson, Virginia Pankey and Donna Ware. Presentation, Presented, 10/26/2020.


  • Valerie Greer & Hong, A., Agutter, J., Garcia, I., Caylor, N., Van Natter, J. & Canham, S. (2023). From Sheltered in Place to Thriving in Place: Pandemic Places of Aging. The Gerontologist. Published, 07/07/2023.
  • Valerie Greer & Canham, S., Hong, A., Caylor, N. & Van Natter, J. (2023). Shifting Perspectives: Outlooks on Aging in Place Through the COVID-19 Era. Ageing & Society. Published, 06/01/2023.
  • Valerie Greer & Cahnam, S.L., Hong, A., Agutter, J., Garcia, I. & Van Natter, J. (2023). Aging in Place through the Covid-19 Pandemic: Perspectives from Aging Service Providers. Journal of Applied Gerontology. Published, 03/01/2023.
  • Andy Hong (2023). Age-Friendly Community Interventions for Health and Social Outcomes: A Scoping Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Published, 01/18/2023.
  • Valerie Greer & Ware, D., Johnson, E. & Pankey, V. (2022). Co-Diagnosis: An Interdisciplinary Design Study of an Inpatient Unit for Mental and Physical Health. Academy Journal: Academy of Architecture for Health. Published, 12/01/2022.
  • Valerie Greer & Linda Edelman, Editors (2022). Age-friendly Ecosystems: Expanding Equity in Aging through Community Places and Practices. Springer Nature. Accepted, 11/01/2022.
  • Greer, Valerie & Diaz Moore, Keith (2021). Autonomy, Identity & Architecture: Design in the COVID-19 Era. Springer. Published, 04/05/2021.
  • Greer, Valerie & Johnson, Emily; Hsu, Josephine (2020). Variables and Outcomes in Patient Room Design: A Study of Design Hypotheses. Health Environments Research & Design Journal. 20. Published, 09/15/2020.