Problem: Concurrent with the dramatic increase in the nationʹs elderly population expected in coming decades will be a need to dispose of larger numbers of our dead. This issue has religious, cultural, and economic salience, but is not typically considered a planning problem. Although cremation rates are rising, burial is projected to remain the preferred alternative for the majority of the U.S. population, and urban space for cemeteries is limited in many communities.
Purpose: We outline issues related to cemeteries and burial, describe a number of alternatives to traditional cemeteries, and explain how planners might usefully contribute.
Methods: This work is based on a literature review.
Results and conclusions: Alternatives to the cemetery are emerging, but remain limited. Some require changes to laws or public perceptions. Planning practice could be advanced by case studies showing how to integrate burial grounds into existing communities and how to alter public policy to permit alternatives to burial.
Takeaway for practice: As population demographics change, environmental concerns intensify, and demand for urban space grows, future land use decisions will have to balance a diverse set of social, cultural, and environmental expectations, including taking into account burial practices. There are only a handful of alternatives to traditional burial in a cemetery: burial in a multiple-use cemetery; natural burial; entombment in a mausoleum; cremation, with the ashes preserved in a columbarium or scattered elsewhere; and burial in a grave that will be reused in the future. This article provides planners with information about each of these alternatives, examples of how the planning process can address disposal of the dead, suggestions for avoiding environmental externalities, and ideas for better integrating the landscapes of death into community life.
Research support: None