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EARTHWATCH

Many View Escape as a Healthy Alternative : According to the magazine American Demographics, more urban dwellers are moving to rural counties.

August 04, 1994|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The summer auto and airline ads seem to scream at us: "Get away from it all!" Escape, come to think of it, is the theme of ads in general these days.

Where are these greener pastures we are supposed to go to? The pictures accompanying the ads invariably show people whizzing around or hanging around under blue skies in what looks like Southern California. So we're already here--or "there," so to speak. It's a head scratcher.

Nancy Bray, who lives in Simi Valley, is not confused by such questions. She wants to escape to Springfield, Ill. Not just for the summer, but for keeps.

"I didn't cough for two weeks," she said, referring to a recent visit with in-laws. Bray, who is a mother of two small children and is married to a utility employee, said she had already been told by a Ventura County doctor, "You live here, you're gonna cough." Ironically, Bray came to Simi 20 years ago after the family doctor told her parents pretty much the same about the air in Los Angeles.

OK, it's normal to be worried about smog. And various U.S. Environmental Protection Agency studies suggest that Los Angeles County and Ventura County do rank way up there in the nation's air pollution hall of infamy.

But, Springfield? Don't folks usually leave the Midwest and come here?

Not necessarily. Time was when they moved to California or some other bigger place on one coast or another. But nowadays, according to figures reported in a recent issue of the magazine American Demographics, "disgusted urban dwellers are moving to rural counties, (reversing) a decade of decline when rural areas were losing people to the cities."

Boise, Ida.; Lawton, Okla.; even Bakersfield, Calif. is swelling. New York, Chicago, Philadelphia are shrinking and Los Angeles has stopped growing.

People are moving for all sorts of reasons, and there is a rash of publications appearing to provide them advice. The Brays have been studying books about this trend for years, even seeking professional advice from an organization called the Greener Pastures Institute. They are now trying to sell their house so they can move. Even though Simi and Springfield have equal-sized populations, the Brays say the smog and congestion conditions are quite different.

This is not, mind you, an anti-California movement. Rather, it is a health-seeking movement. There are, in fact, several getting-away-from-it-all books that recommend California places.

"The Rating Guide to Life in America's Small Cities," by G.S. Thomas, the first chapter of which is about the environment, lists Eureka as the top choice in the nation, and San Luis Obispo gets high marks.

In "Places Rated Almanac" by Savageau and Boyer, the city of Ventura appear in a list of 1,400--in 76th position. There are even lists that put Simi Valley in a leading position. Each author, of course, has his or her own priorities--environment, education, employment, etc.

While immediate health concerns motivate many people like the Brays to think about moving, there is also the future to think about. A trend-within-a trend is emerging, as evidenced by the title of a book being published this fall, "Baby Boomer Retirement," by Don Silver. Although that book is focused more on money concerns than air quality, it raises an important new health-related issue: "Finding the right place for your parents to retire" is the title of a provocative and astute chapter.

With all of us living longer--including our parents--it is important to choose to live where environmental conditions are right. The cumulative effects of pollution and congestion--plus the newly discovered threat of ultraviolet radiation--can tarnish our "golden years."

Yes, we can't even look forward to our proverbial day in the sun without trepidation. Last month, American newspapers, including The Times, began listing, on the weather page, the daily "ultraviolet index" with ratings from 1 to 10. The ratings indicate how long we can safely be in direct sunlight.

Our area has been getting ratings of 9 this week--bad. Springfield's part of the country rates a 6.

Details

* FYI: For information on the Greener Pastures Institute, including an eight-page catalogue of reference materials, call William Seavey (702) 382-4947.

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