Natural Amenities Score for Your County


Back in 1999 the U.S. Department of Agriculture  published Natural Amenities Drive Rural Population Change by David A. McGranahan of the Food and Rural Economics Division, Economic Research Service. His thesis is that where natural resources like timber, coal, farmland and the like were once the main attraction for people, more recently aesthetic attributes have been attracting people to different locations in the U.S.

As part of his analysis, McGranahan and his coworkers developed a set of measures of natural amenities for each county in the contiguous U.S.  The key amenities they found that were attracting people were:

  • Warmer winters (average January temperature).
  • More winter sun (average January days of sun).
  • A temperate summer (low winter-summer temperature gap).
  • Low summer humidity (low average July humidity).
  • Broad topographic variation (topography scale).
  • Larger water area (water area as proportion of total county area).

The researchers combined the objective, measurable, values of each item for each county and developed a composite “Natural Amenity Scale.”  The climate factors may change slowly, but the other factors don’t generally change.  Thus,  the value for each county should remain constant.  With this score, we can rank the counties in the contiguous U.S. from 1 to 3111.  Here’s what we found:

The 5 counties in the U.S. with the highest natural amenity values:

  1. Ventura County California 11.17
  2. Humboldt County California 11.15
  3. Santa Barbara County California 10.97
  4. Mendocino county California 10.93
  5. Del North County California 10.75

The 5 counties in the U.S. with the lowest natural amenity value:

  1. Pembina County North Dakota -5.18
  2. Norman County Minnesota -5.37
  3. Tipton County Indiana  -5.40
  4. Wilkin County Minnesota -6.10
  5. Red Lake County Minnesota -6.40

Wonder how your county stacks up?  The Washington Post recently developed an interactive map.  With the map, you can point to your county and see how it ranks.

Does This Make Sense

It might, but only if you consider these to be the only important factors in defining the aesthetics of a place.  No one considers only these things. They don’t address the people, the vegetation or the cities, towns, highways and other things people have built.

The  people in Red Lake County have considered a wide variety of other factors.  If the response to the Washington Post article is any indication, they like the sunsets, wheat fields and fall colors and seem to like living there.

The county I live in is in a four-way tie for 105 with a score of 5.15.  People seem to like it here too.

Who Cares?

If you are looking for a place to live that has the values identified here, you could start with the list and work your way down until you come to a place that meets your other needs.  If you are trying to market the natural amenities of your community and attract more residents,  the USDA report and the data might give you some ideas to work on.

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