When I wrote The Livable Cities Almanac (HarperCollins, 1992), I was looking for a single overall indicator to measure the extent to which a city is good for your health. I decided the best measure was life expectancy, although cities can be considered only partly responsible for personal behavior that damages someone's health. One of the City's healthy features is that density is high, so that one can get around downtown by walking and New Yorkers therefore walk a lot. New York Magazine in August last year wondered whether that might be a key to the increasing longevity of City residents.
A new report from Mayor Bloomberg shows that the good news continued in 2006, with the mortality rate in New York City falling to an all-time low. Full details of mortality rates are in the NYC's 2006 Summary of Vital Statistics. I think this is a significant achievement. The number of deaths fell to 55,391 from 57,068 in 2005 and from 60,218 in 2001 (which included most of the 3,000 deaths from the attacks on the World Trade Center).
What accounts for the improvement, besides the NY Magazine argument that walking is the fountain of youth? Some quick observations (since life is, in the end, short):
- The Mayor’s Nanny Government policies, previously reported on, to reduce smoking are working. About 1,000 fewer people were killed by smoking in 2006 than 2002. Lung cancer fatalities are down 8 percent.
- Women are living longer - life expectancy for women rose to 81.3 years, well ahead of life expectancy for men (unchanged at 75.7 years). This might reflect the higher percentage of women who have been receiving an advanced education in the past 60 years, since better-educated people live longer.
- Mortality declined for eight categories of illness, including diabetes, HIV (down 15 percent), chronic lung disease and kidney failure.
- Alcohol-related deaths declined but non-alcohol substance abuse increased 8 percent.