moving from light brown to dark green suckas
August 22, 2015 8:58 AM   Subscribe

"Every County in America Ranked by Natural Beauty" -- Christopher Ingram of the Washington Post presents an interactive map comparing the "natural amenities" of every county in the continental US, from a USDA study of "six measures of climate, topography, and water area that reflect environmental qualities most people prefer."

Absent is any consideration of flora or fauna, or social environment, and:
If you hate summer, like me, it may seem that there's an inordinate emphasis on warm weather and ample sunshine. How else to explain that Inyo County, Calif. -- home to Death Valley, a place so inhospitable to human life that it literally has death in its name -- ranks so much higher than, say, the bucolic rolling hillsides of New England?
posted by grobstein (71 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
The least beautiful county is Red Lake county Minnesota, a designation which has raised quite a stink

http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/2015/08/minnesotas-thin-skin-earns-washington-post-scorn/
posted by nathan_teske at 9:04 AM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


According to the US government, I literally live in Hell!

But yes, I think their methodology is weird. I'm not going to dispute that vast swathes of California are prettier than where I live, but it is not so bad here, particularly once you figure out how to dress for winter weather.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:07 AM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Here's the data (warning: XLS), in case it saves anybody a couple of clicks.
posted by brennen at 9:09 AM on August 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


I did passing well in geography in high school, but I'm still continually surprised (no idea why) that Colorado isn't immediately to the east of Oregon, and the "extremely high natural amenities" in the midwest sort of threw me.
posted by Mooski at 9:09 AM on August 22, 2015


Wait, are you implying Colorado is in the Midwest?
posted by obfuscation at 9:12 AM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Wait, are you implying Colorado is in the Midwest?

Only 1/2 of it.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:14 AM on August 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


When I read this it reminded me how quickly I've lost my enthusiasm for sites like 538. Just a few years ago it seemed so fresh and exciting to have so many data-driven articles to read. Now I feel as if the data-wave has crested and we are awash in articles that are actually about matters of personal taste but are cloaked in a veneer of meaningless data analysis.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:20 AM on August 22, 2015 [42 favorites]


It is almost impossible to hit an exact county on my iPad, but I did bring up a neighboring county. Apparently it has "average amenities" and yet ranks around 500 out of more than 3000; I think they are using a different definition of average.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:28 AM on August 22, 2015


Yeah. No way in hell is my county actually average for attractiveness. There is very little vegetation and it's 105 degrees all summer long. We have a lake and a river, so I guess that's a plus (not that you can actually do anything recreational in the Rio Grande with being apprehended by the Border Patrol) but it's bizarre that we are ranked average. We are nowhere close to average.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:28 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


As a fan of winter and flat places I find this map extremely helpful in finding my next home. Brown ftw! (With bonus low housing prices because all the suckers are moving to green.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:29 AM on August 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


When I read this it reminded me how quickly I've lost my enthusiasm for sites like 538. Just a few years ago it seemed so fresh and exciting to have so many data-driven articles to read. Now I feel as if the data-wave has crested and we are awash in articles that are actually about matters of personal taste but are cloaked in a veneer of meaningless data analysis.

I sort of agree but I don't think this is "meaningless." I think the measures they're using really do capture some of what makes a place a good place to live. In fact, the USDA's research backs this up.

That doesn't mean taste is not a factor, and of course this measure leaves a lot out. The leaf-peeping/asparagus band of Western Mass. seems extremely underrated, for example.
posted by grobstein at 9:30 AM on August 22, 2015


mild, sunny winters, temperate summers, low humidity, topographic variation, and access to a body of water

What the hell are they counting as "access to a body of water" and "temperate summers" if every single county in Arizona and New Mexico scores average or better, and every single county in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio scores average or worse? It seems like "sunny winters" and "low humidity" are getting wayyyyy more weight than they deserve.
posted by Sequence at 9:30 AM on August 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


Only 1/2 of it.

I think this just goes to how imprecise and locally applied a term "Midwest" is in general usage. Colorado is pretty firmly in the West, but the eastern section of the state is remarkably of a piece with the western sections of Kansas and Nebraska, and there's plenty of cultural continuity to be found. It probably makes a lot more sense to talk about the Great Plains there.
posted by brennen at 9:31 AM on August 22, 2015 [9 favorites]


What the hell are they counting as "access to a body of water" and "temperate summers" if every single county in Arizona and New Mexico scores average or better, and every single county in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio scores average or worse? It seems like "sunny winters" and "low humidity" are getting wayyyyy more weight than they deserve.


Don't forget topographical variation, too. Those are some pretty flat states you list, compared to the west.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:33 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Those are some pretty flat states you list, compared to the west.

It looks like the driftless area of Wisconsin (which is very pretty and not flat) scores badly as well.
posted by drezdn at 9:38 AM on August 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Wait, are you implying Colorado is in the Midwest?

Yup. Mind you, I'm from Florida, but I've always sort of figured the Rockies separate the West from Everything Else in the mainland U.S. Colorado being about as far west as you can go without actually being there, I call it the Midwest.

Should be noted that most of what I know about the topography of Colorado and its relationship to everything else is from several readings of Stephen King's The Stand. Point, hoot and laugh as necessary.
posted by Mooski at 9:55 AM on August 22, 2015


Clearly many people don't appreciate the austere beauty of vast spreads of industrial monocrops.
posted by daisystomper at 9:57 AM on August 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


How the hell are Grand and San Juan County in Utah not leading the list by a wide margin?
posted by gottabefunky at 9:58 AM on August 22, 2015


My county has "Average Natural Amenities" even though more than 2/3 of our county is in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, including Look Rock and Cades Cove. That seems... unfair.
posted by workerant at 9:58 AM on August 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think it's fairly clear that the criteria have their thumb fairly heavy on the scale against cold winters and humid summers.
posted by chimaera at 10:02 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


What the hell are they counting as "access to a body of water" and "temperate summers" if every single county in Arizona and New Mexico scores average or better, and every single county in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio scores average or worse?

Pfft. Next you'll be saying there's lakes in Minnesota, with recreational boating and fishing and swimming and stuff. As if!

No, the place to go for that sort of thing is Cochise County.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:03 AM on August 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yes, Minnesota is hellish and awful and everyone should just STAY AWAY!!!!!

and leave it all for me. *evil cackle*
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:23 AM on August 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


[UPDATE: Outraged Minnesotans respond] has left me rolling on the my Minnesota floor belly laughing.
posted by jeribus at 10:27 AM on August 22, 2015 [4 favorites]




How else to explain that Inyo County, Calif. -- home to Death Valley, a place so inhospitable to human life that it literally has death in its name -- ranks so much higher than, say, the bucolic rolling hillsides of New England?

This is SUCH a huge pet peeve for me. For one thing, just the name "Death Valley" gives people awful ideas. The presumption, held by apparently everyone, that it is "so inhospitable to human life" flies in the face of thousands of years of human settlement, and millions of years of plant an animal life (I have read that the indigenous people there were not very happy when their home was first referred to as a place of death, since that's where their lives were). But what I really resent is the comparison of the two pictures in the article, Death Valley presented as if to say "how could you ever prefer this?" I grew up on the East Coast ("home of sweltering summers, miserable winters, swampy humidity and little natural beauty to speak of" - ha) and I think the California deserts are the most awe-inspiring, gorgeous places I've ever been.

Rant aside, I think the methodology is weird. Data-driven stuff like this isn't meaningless, but it ends up pissing everyone off because it's just based on broad factors like "sunshine" without any real accounting for what actually makes a place beautiful. It's quantifying natural beauty, which is always bound to be weird. "The data shows you live in a shithole!"
posted by teponaztli at 10:35 AM on August 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


What's ironic is the climate keeping people from moving to, for instance, Genesee County NY (very low natural ammenities: 2896 out of 3111 counties) is exactly why there aren't a lot of people around to ruin the natural beauty of the area.

In other words I think they should include "low population density" as a factor in their scale somewhere.
posted by subdee at 11:20 AM on August 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


> Clearly many people don't appreciate the austere beauty of vast spreads of industrial monocrops.

I guess I'm supposed to apply the correctly sardonic filter here, but this seems kind of flatly (heh) true. Many people don't appreciate a wheat- or cornfield, but the ag-defined landscapes I grew up in are often breathtakingly beautiful. Are industrial monocrops an ecological catastrophe? Yeah, almost certainly, but. I live in county #76 on this list and I sure do miss looking at the Plains sometimes.
posted by brennen at 11:25 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Gotta say... going by where people retire to, i.e. move when no longer bound to a location by economic activity, the USDA seems to have gotten it more right than wrong.
posted by tavella at 11:32 AM on August 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


The "midwest" is corn belt/tallgrass prairie states. The "Great Plains" is the wheat belt/shortgrass prairie states like the Dakotas and Colorado and Kansas. They're totally different ecosystems and totally different settlement patterns.

I mean I'm not gonna start a fight if you want to call Kansas Midwestern because I know people mean "flat and agricultural" but the Midwest is more traditionally the Northwest Ordinance areas and Iowa and maybe Missouri (but they were a slave state so not as culturally unified as the rest of the states).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:38 AM on August 22, 2015 [10 favorites]


Ventura County is indeed quite nice.
posted by notyou at 11:41 AM on August 22, 2015


I mean I'm not gonna start a fight if you want to call Kansas Midwestern because I know people mean "flat and agricultural" but the Midwest is more traditionally the Northwest Ordinance areas and Iowa and maybe Missouri (but they were a slave state so not as culturally unified as the rest of the states).

"Midwest," per the United States Census Bureau: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:43 AM on August 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yep, the graph of population movement says it all. The USDA nailed it. People want to live where it's warm, bumpy, and the water's on the ground but not in the air.

The Smoky Mountains? Humid as all hell in the summer. TrialByMedia's picture? That white stuff on the ground is frozen water that falls from the sky during every winter. Quelle horreur.

Chimaera's comment "that the criteria have their thumb fairly heavy on the scale against cold winters and humid summers" is spot-on. I'd say it's because most people don't like frigid winters or scuba-tank summers, myself.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 11:45 AM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Tavella, the USDA recognized a correlation between its rankings and rural population movement, according to TFA... Folks tended to move to the prettier places, as ranked by the study.

TFA also noted that people in the prettier places don't go to church as often as people in the less pretty places.
posted by notyou at 11:45 AM on August 22, 2015


I think this just goes to how imprecise and locally applied a term "Midwest" is in general usage.

It was a joke at the expense of both the Midwest, and the boring, flat part of Colorado.

If you can see Nebraska, it's the midwest. (still a joke)
posted by humboldt32 at 11:53 AM on August 22, 2015


"Against cold winters and humid summers" explains Florida and air conditioning.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:55 AM on August 22, 2015


Ventura is the best but they leave out how the clouds look like alligator lizards.
posted by bukvich at 12:01 PM on August 22, 2015


Gotta say... going by where people retire to, i.e. move when no longer bound to a location by economic activity, the USDA seems to have gotten it more right than wrong.

Most of the people I know that have moved to the Southwest (and Florida, for my East Coast friends) did so purely for economic reasons.
Houses are cheaper, taxes are cheaper, etc.

"Natural Beauty" had very little to do with it, especially when you consider a lot of them have green lawns in the middle of the desert.

On the other hand, "I don't have to shovel any more fucking snow" is often given as a reason, so maybe that counts as an "environmental quality" that people prefer...
posted by madajb at 12:07 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yup. Minnesota is awful, just terrible. I definitely didn't go for a two hour hike along the river gorge last night leaving straight from my front door in a busy central neighborhood. And I definitely can't bike in few minutes to a 20 square mile wildlife refuge with herons and monarch colonies and such. No siree. Just an endless hellscape of corn fields here.
posted by miyabo at 12:10 PM on August 22, 2015 [8 favorites]


Ventura County is indeed quite nice.
Well, I've spent most of my life in either Los Angeles County (#7) or San Luis Obispo County (#21) and I always considered Ventura County a place you went through to get from one to the other. I'm surprised S.L.O. didn't rank higher than L.A. myself; after all, I did choose to move from the latter to the former. I do have to feel proud of California's dominance in that chart (and realize that does make it automatically suspect... I've BEEN to Fresno County... #60?!?). From my limited travels to other states (can't offer an opinion on Minnesota), I must say that I have not seen ANYplace in Arizona that is nearly as nice as some officially-below-average places I've been in Michigan and Ohio. But then again, I chose to relocate from #7 to #21, passing right through #1 AND #3. So what do I know. (But rating the entire state of Florida Average-to-Very-High? Haven't they finished making that state uninhabitable yet?)
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:27 PM on August 22, 2015


Many people don't appreciate a wheat- or cornfield, but the ag-defined landscapes I grew up in are often breathtakingly beautiful.

The Mississippi Delta is flat and cotton-covered and as beautiful as youth to me. There is nothing like a sweet red sunset over a rich alluvial plain. A New Englander once told me that he didn't trust any land where, if you dropped a ball, it wouldn't roll away from you, which baffled me. That's where we can grow things! And build things! People pay millions of dollars to live in Ouray, Colorado, a claustrophobic box canyon that's hell to get in and out of, and I can't understand it. All of which is to say -- "natural beauty" is supremely unquantifiable, and I fell for rank clickbait in even responding to it.

Incidentally, I have been told that prior to the Romantic period in Europe, Westerners did not like or seek out wilderness settings; they were considered fearful or ugly. But I have no cite for this, and it seems a bit like overly received wisdom, like the idea that the Victorians invented childhood.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:38 PM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


This map perfectly illustrates why I have a 101 decal on my car; I've lived in every state it runs through and in most of the counties. A few years in the midwest (Ohio) sent me scurrying west where I shall live out my years.
posted by Alter Cocker at 12:39 PM on August 22, 2015


...and that's why rents are now higher in S.F. than N.Y.C.
posted by markkraft at 1:10 PM on August 22, 2015


Allamakee Co., IA, and the whole rest of the Driftless, was robbed.
posted by BrashTech at 1:14 PM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


lol this title
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 1:29 PM on August 22, 2015


The world is upside down, that's why. I am wondering if the beholders aren't all crazy.

I used to love living in the hills of California, where my nearest neighbor was at least within hearing distance--you can't hear him yodel, but you can hear the occasional gunfire when he has target practice. We had an artesian spring coming out of the ground near the front gate--in the winter it would be vigorous enough to spout out the little vent on top of my wellhead to a height of maybe three feet. The spring fed a small stream that featured a little stretch of slide rock on the way to a thirty-foot vertical drop over a tumble of granite boulders deposited the last time the glaciers visited, and fed a smallish pond at the bottom of our 25 acre outfit. Mixed pines and huge grandfather oaks graced the hillsides and the ravine. An old, old Indian camp is marked by a flat rock with maybe thirty mortar holes of varying depths, signifying it's use over an uncountable span of years. You can sit there on a nearby rock and imagine the encampment. A palpable sense of place hoveres over this area. Our horses and mules liked to wade the pond in the summer, to cool themselves, and nibble at the duck potatoes that grew there. Migrating herons stopped by to eat the bullfrog tadpoles. I can't help it that my tenses get scrambled when I think of it.

But...RedBud's family lived in Oregon, and we had made a deal to move back up here so she could enjoy her parents in their dotage, rather than just showing up for the funerals. I don't regret that, but I'm just saying I probably would have liked it better if her family, instead of Oregon, lived on the Hilo side of the Big Island. I'm just sayin'...

Now we live on the nose of a low ridge on the east side of a pretty valley, a couple hundred feet above the valley floor. From my deck I can see three of the low-ish mountain ranges that define it...we enjoy the confluence of the Rogue River from the north, and Bear Creek from the south. Some thirty miles on the other side of the transverse range--the Siskiyou Mountains--lies California, a place that is just a theory to me now. The weather here is moderate. My in-laws are cool (most of them). Our small town is a good place to live. My neighbors' houses are just over the fences that define my yard, and I can hear them when they argue. Well, at least they can't see into my house. I guess my standards have evoleved: I'm too old to hump the hills anymore, but we drive up there now and then to pick huckleberries and thimbleberries. Her mom makes good pies. Anyhow, our little county here in Oregonoia made it into the upper hundreds (163). Fine. On a scale of one to ten, I give it only a nine (on account of, you know, residual nostalgia).

Ventura county? Don't make me laugh. And Santa Cruz?--maybe forty years ago.

Hawaii truly would take first place for the views--or maybe tie with the backcountry of the Sierras, though I concede that you can't live in the back country year round. but you have to overlook the Hawaiian reality, namely that their wildlife consists of feral critters: cats, dogs, the wrong kind of mongoose, rats. Well, a plus for Hawaii are the extremely tasty smallish pigs that hang out around mango trees on the windward side of the Big Island. But they have no bear, deer, elk, otters, eagles. After a while the beauty, for me, was like walking through an wonderfully furnished, but empty, house.
posted by mule98J at 2:37 PM on August 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Midwest," per the United States Census Bureau: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

This is just evidence that the people working at the Census Bureau don't know where the Midwest is. ;)
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 3:17 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ventura is very nice. But enjoying the Pacific requires an inch-thick wet suit and crash helmet for rocks. Nice to look at, though.

OTOH on the East Coast I can ride my bike along the beach (note: never any hills even if you go east-west) to a place which serves loaded Bloody Marys starting at 7 AM. Put *that* in your spreadsheet, USDA.

But variety is the spice of life, and he who controls the spice... jeez, just visit some different places already.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:45 PM on August 22, 2015


Hah. Just got in from a bike ride down a rail-to-trail running the full length, north to south, of one of the brownest counties on the map, and I have to say, the natural beauty was pretty extraordinary the whole way. Okay, the asphalt plant wasn't very pleasant. But really, it was pretty heavenly.
posted by Modest House at 4:10 PM on August 22, 2015


REPRESENT 322 DUKES COUNTY MASS HELL YEAH!
posted by vrakatar at 4:12 PM on August 22, 2015


Also -- the eastern Lake Michigan coast is uglier than the I-95 corridor through South and North Carolina? You eggheads need to travel more and quantify less.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:42 PM on August 22, 2015


After saving Yosemite, John Muir fought to prevent the damming of the Hetch-Hetchy valley, which was apparently a site of even greater natural beauty than Yosemite. One of the advocates for damming won the courts over by donating Muir Woods and attaching a note saying basically "Don't pay too much attention to John on this dam business."

When it came time for the powers that be to defend their choice to dam the valley, they did so by referring to it as "an old swamp".

Real estate wordplay has always been a force for evil.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:45 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Jonathan Livengood: "This is just evidence that the people working at the Census Bureau don't know where the Midwest is. ;)"

Exactly. If the Census Bureau doesn't know the difference between pre-realignment Big 10 states and pre-realignment Big 12 states, I don't know what to tell them!

No, but the Census Bureau uses it to mean "big, flat, agricultural spaces." Like I said, I'm not gonna start a fight about it! But if you were to look at the section of my bookshelves devoted to scholarly analysis of the sociology and history of the Midwest as a region, it's the Northwest Ordinance territories and Iowa and sometimes parts of Missouri. The Great Plains and the Midwest have different ecosystems and different settlement patterns and different political histories. If you want to talk about "what Midwesterners are like," you need to make the distinction, because the history and politics of the Midwest and Great Plains are so different ... it's why you've got DFLs in Minnesota and early gay marriage in Iowa and the big blue of Illinois and the swing state of Ohio, but the Great Plains states are pretty universally "red" states. The Midwest had a different political development process than the Great Plains and it has led to different sorts of political alignments in 2015. You can't use a Midwest strategy to win in a Great Plains state. And if you want to talk about "what the Midwest itself (or Great Plains themselves) is like," well, tallgrass prairie and shortgrass prairie are totally different ecosystems and you really need to distinguish one from the other.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:55 PM on August 22, 2015 [5 favorites]


When did we stop referring to Middle West and truncate it to Midwest?

I like Middle West. It's quaint. Also, it reminds me of Middle Earth.
posted by MoonOrb at 5:12 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


When did we stop referring to Middle West and truncate it to Midwest?

Well, the Middle West is like northern Texas, and the Midwest is like Iowa. I can't comment on Texas, because it's just too damned big. I don't know what to think about places like Nebraska--I spent a week in Nebraska one day about 30 years ago, and I haven't quite gotten it out of my system. The highway followed a river almost all the way across the state. It was half a mile wide and about an inch deep. I think we had an elevation change of half an inch every hundred miles, and I never saw a hill the whole time. I swear, I was so wiped that, by the time we finally got to Omaha, I got a nosebleed going over the overpass into Iowa.
posted by mule98J at 5:22 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I-80 through Nebraska is the fastest way to get through the state, and also the most boring. Driving the back roads, you find more scenic vistas, although the truly exciting stuff is up in the northwest corner, I suppose. But moving out here from the East coast has made me really start to appreciate the sky and how much it changes through the day. I've seen some truly glorious cloud formations since I got out here, and some pretty fantastic sunsets. It's not what keeps me here (that's the low cost of living, friendly people, and good health care) but it's a nice bonus.
posted by PussKillian at 5:33 PM on August 22, 2015 [4 favorites]


Any measure of natural beauty that ranks Waco, TX (McClennan County, TX) in the top (prettiest) half of counties, or even the top 7/8 of counties, is obviously not assessing anything remotely related to beauty.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 5:55 PM on August 22, 2015


Yup. Minnesota is awful, just terrible. I definitely didn't go for a two hour hike along the river gorge last night leaving straight from my front door in a busy central neighborhood.

Did you put on your bug dope?
posted by JackFlash at 7:15 PM on August 22, 2015


Well I live in number 3103 out of 3111. I told this to my boyfriend, who really wants to move, and he was unsurprised. So we should go live in California somewhere, except that everyone else has beat us to it and all we can afford to live in now is a cardboard box.
posted by weathergal at 8:05 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Having lived in several different parts of the U.S. (Midwest, Pacific Northwest, East Coast, Northern and Southern California), and spent time all over the rest, I have no doubt that California has some pretty serious physical advantages. More the moderate temperatures, lack of humidity (and lack of mosquitoes, at least where I live), and abundant sunshine than the beauty--yes, it's beautiful here, but so are many other places. I think the weather is where it really wins.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:07 PM on August 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


Of course their measure of natural amenities didn't balance that out with natural disasters, of which California also has an overabundance.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:11 PM on August 22, 2015


I have a dear friend who says that liking California is the same as people who like the "greatest hits" albums. Sure you do, we all do, but you are not a true fan. The true fans find the beauty in the deep tracks, like in Michigan (where we are from) which causes you to dream in only blue, green and white or Nebraska where the prairie and farm land actually make you cry with patriotism.

Personally I can never tell if these type of things are made to create discord and jealousy and conflict and sell something (in this case real estate) or this is just a devaluing of our earth making it easier to drain fresh water out of or put dumps on land that is less desirable (or if I am becoming a suspicious old coot).
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 8:26 PM on August 22, 2015 [6 favorites]


"Every county in America Ranked by Natural Beauty" . . . except those in Alaska and Hawai'i, the two states exceptionally regarded for Natural Beauty :/
posted by 3urypteris at 9:09 PM on August 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


Next month I move from County 1 (Ventura) to County 2,156 (Cook). More proof that I do everything backwards. Ventura is magnificent but Lake Michigan can't be that bad. Can it?
posted by Lil Bit of Pepper at 12:45 AM on August 23, 2015


Chicago is great! Lake Michigan is pretty.
posted by teponaztli at 12:56 AM on August 23, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yup. Mind you, I'm from Florida, but I've always sort of figured the Rockies separate the West from Everything Else in the mainland U.S. Colorado being about as far west as you can go without actually being there, I call it the Midwest.

Sorry to get hung up on this, but does this mean you think the Rocky Mountains don't go through the middle of Colorado? When I lived in Denver, we used to joke about how you should call eastern Colorado "West Kansas," because it was so flat, but Colorado definitely has mountains.

Raven Maps makes beautiful physical maps of all the states. Here's one of Colorado.
posted by colfax at 2:55 AM on August 23, 2015


As I write this I am watching a foggy sunrise over the Savannah River, no sounds except birds chirping, surrounded by a verdant forest. And my county is apparently average, 917 out of 3114 or whatever. All I can say is if this is average, then we live in a pretty good-looking country!

And I am not one to complain about government spending (except that there is too little of it in many areas), but surely the USDA has better things to do than this. Also, despite their claim of not having the data, I have to wonder if Alaska and Hawaii were really left off because they would have completely wrecked the curve (although given the bias toward warmth Alaska may have ended up pretty brown.)
posted by TedW at 4:14 AM on August 23, 2015


I'll take their word for it that this connects well with rural population movements, and thus captures something "real". But I do have gripes. And I don't think it reflects where people go when they retire—I couldn't find a map of just "where people who move for retirement move to", but fraction of retirement-age people and where people spend retirement income don't match it very well.

They openly admit the factors they use are partly based on data availability, which makes sense but still introduces a bias: topography is easier to measure than forest-prettiness, but when I moved from a place where the countryside changes colors in the autumn to one where it's almost all conifers, I do miss it terribly. They "adjust" the amenity scores for each factor in an ad-hoc way, then just add the six together to give a final ranking. Which, yeah, it's hard to come up with something better but how much would you trade water area for summer humidity?

But I did find something really hinky when I dug deep into the numbers for where I used to live (St. Louis County, Minnesota, ranked 1921, called "low") and where I live now (Gallatin County, Montana, ranked 210, called "high"). St. Louis' six amenity scores are (actual parameters in parentheses):
  • Jan Temp (8.5): -2.0
  • Jan Sun (139): -0.38
  • Jul Temp (65.6): 0.66
  • Jul Hum (59): -0.21
  • Topog (9): 0.019
  • Water Area (9.25): 1.3
For a total amenity score of -0.66. So not unexpected: the cold winters really kill its number, more than the bountiful water can make up for, and the other numbers are a mixed bag. So how about Gallatin county?
  • Jan Temp (20.8): -0.10
  • Jan Sun (135): -0.50
  • Jul Temp (66.4): 1.5
  • Jul Hum (28): 1.9
  • Topog (21): 1.8
  • Water Area (1.02): 0.098
Total score: 3.86. Sounds good! And we do have amenities: purple mountains majesty, low summer humidity and not-as-cold winters make this a pretty nice place. But check out the July average temperature score compared to St. Louis—one friggin degree Fahrenheit difference, one whole amenity point higher score!

I plotted the summer temperature vs score function, turns out it's not a simple function, and they do explain this statistic is based on a "temperate climate" by measuring the residual of a regression between summer and winter temperatures—that is, how much the summer temperature is not predicted by the winter temperature, but still considering "summers less hot than expected from their winter" as a good thing, resulting in a score that favors cold summers. And extremely so: the highest-ranking summer temperature score goes to Humboldt County, California, where its average of 56.3°F scores it a 6.5. Meanwhile the similarly-chilly San Juan County, Colorado, averaging 55.5°F, only gets a 4.1. They claim that by scoring the residual they decorrelate the summer temperature score from the winter one, and they would, if the summer score were a true function. So I don't know what's going on here but it really looks messed up.

I'm with the article: their scores put too much weight on temperature, and in a weird way. They don't measure everything they could that deserves to be called "natural amenities", such as whether you smell pines or smog when you inhale, and if this statistic correlates with population movement that's almost a mark against it since people move for work or family reasons as much as amenities.
posted by traveler_ at 6:35 AM on August 23, 2015 [5 favorites]


mild, sunny winters, temperate summers, low humidity, topographic variation, and access to a body of water.
Maine is fairly humid and winters aren't mild, but there are still average rankings. We have hills, lakes, ocean, and lovely green trees. Fabulous fall foliage. Winter is harsh, unforgiving, and stunningly beautiful, except when the snow gets gross and dirty, or when there's no snow to distract from the endless gray days. It's home. I'm staying.
posted by theora55 at 9:16 AM on August 23, 2015




A New Englander once told me that he didn't trust any land where, if you dropped a ball, it wouldn't roll away from you
The first time in my life I got homesick enough for the West to move away from where I was in the East, the way I put it to friends and co-workers was "I'm moving back to a place where you can see the ground in between the plants". I've now lived east of the Mississippi for more of my adult life than I have west of it, and I still can't get over the feeling that there's just something unnatural about the way everything grows together and gets so green in the high summer months.

This sort of response, in one direction or another, is very deeply imprinted and at least for some people impossible to acclimatize away.
posted by Creosote at 10:58 AM on August 23, 2015 [3 favorites]


(That said, I'm still thoroughly baffled how any algorithm could result in the statement that Albemarle County, Virginia, has "low natural amenities.")
posted by Creosote at 11:07 AM on August 23, 2015


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