The health and well-being of urban residents can be largely influenced by the ambient physical and social environments. For example, an extreme heat wave event combined with the urban heat island in cities could substantially increase heat-related mortality and morbidity. However, continuous interactions with and cumulative exposures to the surrounding urban environments throughout all life stages also play a vital role in later-life outcomes.

From a life-course perspective, we aim to examine not only the short-term impacts but also the long-term, cumulative impacts of urban environments on human well-being and public health. With our research, we expect to identify evidence-based alternatives for current urban planning and design toward more equitable and integrated future cities.

Longevity-Ready Cities

In response to increasing life expectancies and urbanization, initiatives for age-friendly cities seek to facilitate active and healthy aging by strengthening supports and services for older people. While laudable, these efforts typically neglect early-life exposures that influence long-term well-being. For example, many chronic diseases in later life, including cognitive decline and dementia, can result from persistent exposure to airborne toxins in the outdoor urban environment emitted from traffic and industrial activities.

For a population that is living four decades longer than the population a century ago, governments and societies have unique opportunities to intentionally plan from the moment children are born, instead of mitigating and adapting to the consequences by the time they reach old age.

To better prepare people for sustainable, century-long lives in future cities, we proposed the concept of longevity-ready cities (Wang et al., 2021), as an extension of the traditional age-friendly cities concept. The definition of longevity-ready cities is

An inclusive, accessible, and equitable urban environment designed and planned to support older populations and simultaneously enable younger populations to age well, which, from a life-course perspective, considers cumulative effects of physical and social environments, changing climate, and disparities on active and healthy aging.

In particular, compared with most age-friendly city initiatives that focus on older populations, longevity-ready cities implement interventions that reduce disparities at all life stages. Theoretically, the latter approach will therefore probably be more efficient, and will require less effort to achieve environmental equity and justice.

Relevant publications:

  1. Feron, S., Cordero, R. R.*, Damiani, A., Oyola, P., Ansari, T., Pedemonte, J. C., Wang, C., Ouyang, Z., & Gallo, V. (2023). Compound climate-pollution extremes in Santiago de Chile. Scientific Reports, 13, 6726.
  2. Wang, C., Miller, J., Jackson, R. B., & Carstensen L. L. (2022). Combating climate change in an era of longevity. Generations Journal, 46(2), 1–10.
  3. Jackson, R. B., Ahlström, A., Hugelius, G., Wang, C., Porporato, A., Ramaswami, A., Roy, J., & Yin, J. (2022). Human well-being and per capita energy use. Ecosphere, 13(4), e3978.
  4. Wang, C., Sierra Huertas, D., Rowe, J. W., Finkelstein, R., Carstensen, L. L., & Jackson, R. B. (2021). Rethinking the urban physical environment for century-long lives: from age-friendly to longevity-ready cities. Nature Aging, 1, 1088–1095.
  5. Wang, C., & Jackson, R. B. (2021). Supporting century-long lives through efficient energy use and livable urban environments. Stanford Center on Longevity, 1–63.
  6. Miller, J., Horwitz, I.‡, Johfre, S.‡, Jonas, A.‡, Roche, M.‡, Sierra Huertas, D.‡, Streeter, J.‡, Wang, C.‡, Deevy, M., & Carstensen L. L. (2021). Effectively reducing race differences in old age demands a life course approach. Building Equity in Longevity, AARP International, Washington, DC, 1–4. (‡: authors ordered alphabetically)