Monday, March 15, 2004

Demographics and the Beauty of Mountains

I recently read an article called Something in the Way We Move in American Demographics by Glenn Thrush from November of 1999.

While the article is a little dated, I think its premise is still very interesting. The premise, simply stated, is that Americans are moving out of the city to "pretty places" in the countryside.

Selected Quote:
In the 1990s, aesthetics has translated into growth. David McGranahan, an economist with the Economic Research Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has found that there is a very strong correlation between rural-county population and job growth and how each county ranks in terms of its physical attractiveness - or to use the more technical term, its "natural amenities."

Counties with mild climates and interesting terrain features like mountain, rivers, and lakes tend to be attractive to people. Other important factors include the "small town feeling" and proximity to major metropolitan areas.

The areas that have the least amount of growth are flat areas. Places like my childhood home in Kansas and much of the rest of the Midwest. These areas are experiencing a "brain drain". Kids with the ability to go to school elsewhere do just that. And they rarely return. Or they just hop on a bus and move to Los Angeles.

I live in Los Angeles county, and it has a high population density. There are about 33 million people in California, and 9.9 million of them live in Los Angeles county. The city of Los Angeles has 3-4 million people and a population density of about 8,000 people per square mile.

Los Angeles also has the ocean nearby as well as the Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountains. There are towns in LA with a "small town" feel that I've visited like Pasadena and Whittier, even though they are only minutes from downtown LA. LA should be a desert, but they spread their hijacked water around lavishly and LA is a very green place with tropical plants competing with palm trees and jade plants.

I'm thinking about moving back to the Midwest after finishing up at UCLA. I don't mind the flatlands. And I don't like the high population density (and high car density) in LA. I think Tulsa is a nice place that has lots of opportunities for my wife and I. Tulsa also has a lot of lakes nearby, so it has some "natural amenities". And the climate is mild compared to the upper Midwest.

So while I may not be a great example of the trend identified in the article, I think the idea is still persuasive and explanatory. David McGranahan (the economist quoted above) developed a list of criteria or factors that make an area attractive to people (including rivers, mountains, lakes, and oceans). The most attractive county in the country, using his scale, was Humboldt county in northern California. The least attractive place to live in the country is Red Lake, Minnesota with its frigid winters, flat geography, and its lack of any large body of water.

Second selected quote:
"The old patterns of boom and bust in population growth is pretty much ending in the non-metro West," says John Cromartie, an ERS researcher who tracks national migration patterns.

And, he adds, "It's going to continue to grow steadily because it's such a pleasant place to live."

As for the strapped agricultural Midwest, suffice it to say that America's prairie breadbasket will continue to go stale.

"I have nothing against Minnesota or Iowa or Indiana - and I went to school in Wisconsin," McGranahan says, "but agriculture does well in flat, uninteresting country.

Interesting-looking country makes for crummy farms, but [it's] where people want to go to live."

Source: Something in the Way We Move, American Demographics / Glenn Thrush. November, 1999 [electronic resource, no page numbers, c2003 Gale Group, SN 0163-4089].

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