Health is the new wealth - Newcastle: City of Longevity

COVID-19 demonstrated how important health is to our economies, and how wellbeing is not just a consequence of policy but must be the focus of policy. We're embedding this locally through Newcastle: City of Longevity, a strategic initiative embedded in the principle of 'health is the new wealth'. This is a developing success story: keep checking back for progress updates!

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Our City of Longevity billboard in Times Square, NYC
Newcastle: City of Longevity was featured on the NASDAQ billboard in Times Square, NYC, on August 17th 2021.

Background

On the 14th December 2020, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2021-2030 as the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing. This UN-wide initiative is the culmination of many years of collaboration with partners across the globe and showcases the importance of health in discussions of ageing, with the decade as an opportunity to bring together partners to collaborate on improving the lives of older citizens, their families and neighbourhoods in which they live.

In this context, demographic shifts are occurring globally, joined to the tilt towards an urban planet, started from 2007: by 2025 the 59% of the global population will live in cities and urban agglomerates, being urbanization one of the global trends of the 21st Century (OECD, 2015). According to OECD data, 54% of the world population live in urban areas[1]. In the UK, around XX of the total urban population is composed by over 65 years old.

Graph showing World population shares by degree of urbanisation, 1975-2050

In England, both rural and urban areas have seen an increase in overall population between 2011 and 2019. Rural population increased by 5.2% and urban by 6.2%. Within rural areas, the greatest rate of population increase was in rural town and fringe areas (5.7%). Within urban areas it was in urban major conurbations (6.9%). In 2019, 56.3 million people lived in urban areas (82.9% of England’s population) and 9.6 million in rural areas (17.1%)[2]. Living in the city makes it possible to contracts with other people and access to places more easily compared to the countryside, especially for older people. Cities are home to 43% of all people 65 years old and above in the OECD regions.

Urbanisation and healthy ageing are therefore intertwined: independent living for older adults will be one of the most imminent urban phenomena in the coming years. Older people will be both an asset and a challenge for cities: it is crucial to study the unique circumstances of older adults, such as how they move around and experience urban places. However, we believe that a novel perspective dimension needs to be added to the above already well-established and codified study practice. If our countries are becoming increasingly urbanised and life increasingly takes place in urban contexts, we have to imagine how these places can not only passively accommodate an ageing population, but also proactively act as entities that can help people to age better, supporting the adoption of healthier lifestyles well before old age, putting in place all the tools that can also influence the social determinants of health (SDH), i.e. those non-medical factors that influence health, and of which the urban context is a natural and crucial interface.

Now more than ever, the effects of COVID-19 have demonstrated how important health is to our economies, and how wellbeing is not just a consequence of policy but must be the focus of policy: a country’s economic prosperity and productivity depends on its presence throughout society. We want to embed this locally in our city through a strategic initiative embedded in the principle of ‘health is the new wealth’.

In our opinion it is therefore more proper to introduce in the urban contexts the concept of Healthy Longevity instead of Healthy Ageing and – instead of simply researching and analysing those factors which make longevity cities defined, cities inhabited by super centenarians – to set up the concept of City of Longevity, i.e. tools to help people in today’s urban contexts to live longer and healthier lives.

An aerial view of Newcastle city centre

Our approach

At NICA, we’ve considered the following:

  • If the circumstances in which we are born, grow, live, work and age are the strongest influences on health, and are often called the ‘wider determinants of health’, can we introduce evidence-based advice to suggest longevity-wise behavioural changes in the everyday life of citizens?
  • We typically look at the number of centenarians and/or the life expectancy of residents of a city when thinking about longevity. But what city has ever really put in place a systematic, targeted project based on scientific evidence and decisive action to change behaviour by capitalising on social dynamics?

This is our proposal for Newcastle: City of Longevity.

Our objectives are:

  • Supporting cultural change
  • Developing a chain reaction through the city’s local amenities
  • Leveraging healthy lifestyles as a driver for the local economy
  • Democratizing access to healthier, long-life opportunities between more and less affluent areas of the city and lowering inequalities
  • Developing a low cost and replicable program to serve as a model to export to other cites
  • Developing a city’s vocation and tourism offer based on the “wealth of health”
  • Measuring impact and progress over time

The project

NICA, together with partners and the city’s businesses and citizens, will aim to deliver a number of flagship initiatives across Newcastle by helping citizens live healthier for longer by incorporating wellbeing in their daily lives, attracting new visitors (benefiting the tourism sector), helping the reprise of high streets and neighbourhoods and empowering businesses within a long-term innovative strategy.

We will look to create an intergenerational impact by building on the interconnectedness the pandemic has shown us – from our local neighbourhoods, communities, families and friends to all of us as individuals. It is fundamental that we enable Newcastle’s citizens to make wiser, healthier choices and together we aim to develop initiatives which deliver what we here at NICA have coined the term “Return on Society”; a proprietary index of combined metrics helping organisations to identify not only their return on business but moreover, how this practically impacts community and society at scale.

But not only this, we will provide the city of Newcastle with a smart narrative and a strategic vocation, exploring new opportunities across multiple industries in a post-pandemic world. This is as much about economic recovery as it is about restless reinvention; addressing not only health inequalities but also allowing the citizens of Newcastle to prosper in terms of their welfare.

Where we are

Currently we are finalizing the City of Longevity toolkit, a set of evidence-based and easy-to-replicate rules to quickly enable cities aiming to endorse our initiative to deploy it in urban environments. Our toolkit encompasses a vocational explorative tool to allow cities leverage their heritage as a key factor in helping behavioural change.

We are working on the following dimensions:

  • Pedestrianism & slow-pace mobility (included Longevity paths)
  • Nutrition
  • Culture and entertainment
  • Pub lifestyle

In the summer of 2021, the project was selected as a finalist in the MIPIM 2021 awards. Hundreds of entries were received from almost 40 countries across the world and showcases how Newcastle is an international hub for addressing the global challenge of healthy longevity. The initiative flows from NICA based at The Catalyst, but involves collaboration with citizens, businesses and organisations from across the city.

MIPIM Finalist branding

The MIPIM award shortlist is testament to the quality and design of The Catalyst building and its sustainability credentials, but also celebrates the whole eco-system of businesses, researchers, and innovators who are working closely together to build Newcastle as an Intelligent City of Longevity, together addressing inequalities, delivering benefit for current residents and sustainable healthy lives for future generations.

We celebrated with a billboard in Times Square, New York City, officially launching the City of Longevity project. Stay tuned!

To find out more about the initiative, contact hannah.booker@newcastle.ac.uk.

References

[1] https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/d0efcbda-en/1/3/1/index.html?itemId=/content/publication/d0efcbda-en&_csp_=29e66c6b271e1232011215f7024775fa&itemIGO=oecd&itemContentType=book

[2] (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/trend-deck-2021-urbanisation/trend-deck-2021-urbanisation#englands-urban-population-is-growing-faster-than-the-rural-population)