in the late 1990s the federal government devised a measure of the best and worst places to live in America, from the standpoint of scenery and climate. The “natural amenities index” is intended as “a measure of the physical characteristics of a county area that enhance the location as a place to live.”
The index combines “six measures of climate, topography, and water area that reflect environmental qualities most people prefer.” Those qualities, according to the USDA, include mild, sunny winters, temperate summers, low humidity, topographic variation, and access to a body of water.
You’ll see that sunbelt counties fare pretty well — especially ones in California and Colorado. In fact, every single one of the ten highest-ranked counties is located in California. After Ventura, Humboldt, Santa Barbara, Mendocino and Del Norte counties round out the top 5.
By contrast the great lakes region fares poorly, with most of the lowest rankings clustered around the Minnesota/North Dakota border region — hey there, Fargo! The absolute worst place to live in America is (drumroll please)… Red Lake County, Minnesota
More recent research has found a relationship between natural beauty and religious attendance — places with more natural amenities tend to have lower rates of religious adherence, according to a 2015 Baylor University study. Why go to church if you can hit the beach or the trailhead?
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