U.S. News to Retirees: Choose a locale with plenty of greenspace

Northampton is one of the “best places to retire” according to U.S. News & World Report and Money Magazine. A similar positive citation in the New York Times is mentioned on the City of Northampton website. Retiree in-migration can look attractive to city officials because their households consume a relatively low proportion of city services, notably public schooling.

Packing in-town areas of Northampton with condos might seem like a good way to provide lots of retiree-friendly housing. U.S. News, however, points out that there is another part of the equation: greenspace. We quote from “10 Greenest Places to Retire”, published today:

If your idea of retirement is a permanent vacation, it makes sense to choose a locale with plenty of wide-open spaces. Parks not only provide refuge from the noise and bustle of the city, but they also strengthen neighborhoods, reduce pollution, and inspire lazy strolls and impromptu picnics.

Parks are especially vital for densely populated urban areas, says Peter Harnik, director of the Center for City Park Excellence at the Trust for Public Land…

Greenspace also merits a prominent mention in Money Magazine’s criteria for its 2006 Best Places to Retire:

These towns have it all: top-notch health care, loads of culture, lots of green space – and everything else the most desirable places in America have. Except high taxes.

If Northampton wants to attract retirees, preserving neighborhood greenspace and park-like features such as the North Street woods is key. Preserving tracts of nature in outlying areas like Mineral Hills (see Gazette article) is good but not sufficient. Most people just aren’t going to get out there to enjoy it that often, especially people with limited mobility. Greenspace needs to be where people live.

See also:

Photo Essay: 10 Reasons People Like Trees Around Them; Will the Sustainable Northampton Plan
Put Urban Trees at Risk?

Our urban centers need to become more attractive to help counter the
continuation of a sprawl pattern of development. If the appeal of low
density, widely scattered development is derived from the need to be
closer to nature, then making trees an integral part of the urban
habitat will help make our town and city centers more desirable places
to live and work. It is profoundly important to see this linkage
between making cities and towns more “liveable” and stemming the
continued spread of scattered development across the countryside…

[A National Association of Home Builders] report points out that “lots
with trees sell for an average of 20 to 30 percent more than similarly
sized lots without trees,” and that “mature trees that are saved during
development add more value to a lot than post construction landscaping.”

1995 survey by American Lives shows] that “consumers are putting an
increasingly high premium on interaction with the outdoor environment
through the inclusion of wooded tracts, nature paths, and even
wilderness areas in housing developments.” In fact, 77 percent of
consumers put “natural open space” as the feature they desired most in
a new home development…

A national survey of homebuyers conducted in 1994 by American Lives
revealed that of 39 features critical to their choice, homebuyers
ranked “lots of natural open space” and plenty of “walking and biking
paths” as the third and fourth highest rated factors affecting their

Strategies for revitalizing urban cores are increasingly emphasizing
the value of natural areas within the city such as waterways, parks,
and other green corridors…

Greening Smart Growth: The Sustainable Sites Initiative
Physiological functions, the core processes of our bodies, are
positively affected by experiences with nature. For example, hospital
patients who have a view of natural landscapes (as opposed to built
structures) recover faster from surgery and require less pain
medication.[40] In addition, heart rate, blood pressure, and other
measures return to normal levels more quickly when people view natural
rather than urban landscapes after a stressful experience.[41] Site
design can also provide opportunities for outdoor physical activity and
healthy food production. Daily moderate activity by individuals
decreases the incidence of such chronic diseases as heart disease,
diabetes, and high blood pressure. Community gardens in healthy
environments provide fresh, local produce, and promote greater
stewardship of land by site users. Improved health reduces health care

Smart Growth with Balance: The American Planning Association
development — including redevelopment, infill development, and new
construction in urbanizing areas — should plan for biodiversity and
incorporate green infrastructure. Green infrastructure helps to
maintain natural ecosystems, including clean air and water; reduces
wildlife habitat fragmentation, pollution, and other threats to
biodiversity. It also improves the quality of life for people.

The Ecological Cities Project: Greenspace in “The Humane Metropolis”

Rutherford Platt, “Regreening the Metropolis: Pathways to More Ecological Cities”

UMass Press: “Natural Land: Preserving and Funding Open Space”

Irony of Infill: You Have to Drive to Enjoy Nature

Photo Essay: Our Woods in Winter

Photo Essay: The Forest Behind View Avenue