Mapping America’s access to nature, neighborhood by neighborhood

Analysis by Harry StevensClimate Lab columnist

April 10, 2024 at 7:30 a.m.



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A city is a science experiment. What happens when we separate human beings from the environment in which they evolved? Can people be healthy without nature? The results have beenbleak. Countless studies have shown that people who spend less time in nature die younger and suffer higher rates of mental and physical ailments.

“There’s a really, really strong case for proximity to nature influencing health in a really big way,” said Jared Hanley, the co-founder and CEO of NatureQuant, an Oregon start-up whose mission is to discover what kind of nature best supports human health, map where it is and persuade people to spend more time in it.

Using satellite imagery and data on dozens of factors — including air and noise pollution, park space, open water and tree canopy — NatureQuant has distilled the elements of health-supporting nature into a single variable called NatureScore. Aggregated to the level of Census tracts — roughly the size of a neighborhood — the data provide a high-resolution image of where nature is abundant and where it is lacking across the United States.

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