Alex Hutchinson recently wrote an article “Nature Is Medicine. But What’s the Right Dose?” for Outside Magazine. He described the app naturequant (for “quantifying nature”) codeveloped by three friends, a data expert, a software guy, and an expert in environmental psychology. I wrote a previous blog “The Healing Power of Nature” on this topic. Naturequant is designed to encourage us to get out into nature by helping to quantify the positive effects of our exposure to nature. Imagine an addition to a fitness tracker that lets you know how many “nature points” you just earned on your walk. Obviously you’d earn more in Central Park than doing the same walk down 5th Avenue. They currently have an app NatureDose for smartphones that does this, in beta testing. It should only be a matter of time before they are partnered up with makers of fitness trackers to offer it on watches. I’m normally of the view that tech can tend to subtract more from our appreciation of nature than add to it. But this is the kind that can be left on your wrist or in your pocket and the results examined later, rather than looking at it constantly during your activity.
One feature that is already working on the site is “NatureScore”: you can type in an address, and find out the location’s NatureScore, from 0 to 100 (or 0 to 6 “leaves”). Here’s my address:
This is below average, which is disappointing, I thought I’d get more points for the little park in front of our house, but I guess we lose points for the fairy busy Butterfield Boulevard, also out front. So I can’t just hang out in front of my house to ring up a good NatureDose. Fortunately, there are many larger parks and open spaces nearby. However I was disappointed that Morgan Hill Community park also gets a low score:
Clearly the algorithm needs some work for parks in urban areas, since it gives a lower score to Community Park than a location on the four-lane highway Monterey road:
But the algorithm does a better job on less developed settings like open spaces. Coyote Valley Open Space preserve gets over 90:
And Uvas Canyon County Park, one of my favorites, gets a near-perfect score:
Pretty much everybody agrees that it’s a good idea to spend more time in nature, and if this type of technology motivates people to do it, much like step counters can motivate people to walk more, I’m all for it.
I must admit that reading about this inspired me to increase my “naturedose”. I have been spending most of my outings biking lately. Aside from the beautiful and park-like Coyote creek trail, a lot of this is on roads, even if they are less busy rural ones. I need to get out hiking more. In some of our local open spaces and county parks, it is quite easy to get to spots where there is little or no sign of civilization. I’m definitely going to get back into hiking more and visit these areas.