So often in the survival/preparedness world we talk about relocating to some remote, bucolic, rural area for safety and security when the SHTF. But not everybody is well suited to abandon city life and become a farmer. Small towns can be a safer haven than large cities where you’ll have the support of community when things go sideways
By David Spero
Maybe you’ve decided that town living is a better choice for you. There’s nothing wrong with that decision.
Many of us have little ability or interest in a farming lifestyle, and particularly if we have some other type of non-farming/rural talent or ability we can use to survive on in the future, it not only becomes sensible for us to consider living in a town, it becomes essential, because the town contains the concentration of people needed to be your future customers.
There’s no need to feel like you’re becoming a second-class prepper by not buying a dozen acres in the middle of nowhere and becoming totally self-sufficient, because in reality, the concept of living by yourself, and being fully self-sufficient, is an impossibility to start with. The solitary farming family will need help in many different aspects of their life, plus they’ll need people to trade with – to sell the surplus food they’ve grown themselves, and to buy other food items to supplement the diet of their own food.
That has been the historical role of towns since mankind stopped being nomadic hunter gatherers and started to settle on land. The towns provide a focus for the farmers around them, and the supplemental services and support the farmers need.
As towns grew larger, they started to then add extra people and extra services for the existing townsfolk as well as for the farmers nearby, and then of course, with the industrial revolution, towns started to be centers for factories, and so it went from there to the mega-millions of people in some of our massive sprawling cities of today.
But, in a Level 2 or 3 situation, towns will revert back to essentially being support resources for the surrounding farmers, and you’ll want to either have something that farmers will want/need, or something that the other people in the town will want/need. There will only be a reduced level of trade between nearby towns, and almost no trade with more distant locations, because transport will become expensive, slow, difficult and probably dangerous.
House or Apartment? Big or Small Lot?
So, do you want to have an apartment above a store on the main street of the town? A condo in a block of condos? A house on a 1/8th acre lot a street back from the main street? A house on a 1/4 acre lot several streets back from the main street? Or a house on a one acre lot more or less at the town limits?
As a rule of thumb, the closer to the town center, the smaller your lot will be. Of course, lot size is probably not your prime consideration, but we’d suggest you should consider this somewhat, and in particular, we’d urge you to consider having a freestanding dwelling rather than a condo/apartment/townhouse.
We’re not saying you need a large house – a smaller house would be fine, but you should probably allow for being able to accept some ‘guests’ who will want to join you WTSHTF. A spare bedroom or two might be much appreciated by all. Generally you want to choose an average sort of house consistent with its surrounding houses – ‘security by obscurity’ in a sense.
Having your own freestanding dwelling on your own lot gives you much more security, independence and privacy than sharing a structure and common areas and land with others, and in an uncertain future, you’ve no idea who might be living next to you. The ability to have a buffer zone between your residence and the next residence/street gives you a very slight warning and a ‘no-man’s land’ where you can choose how to respond to unwanted visitors with less than lethal force. When they’re breaking down your door – or, even worse, coming at you through the shared common wall with the adjoining apartment – your options are much more limited!
You can also use the land around your residence to erect a ‘garden shed’ or two in which you can store additional supplies and materials, in addition to whatever is in your home itself. If you have your own land, you can have your own septic tank, or at the very least, dig a privy.
Talking about such things, some distance also gives you a sanitary/quarantine gap from your neighbors as well. High density housing combined with a failure of services such as water and sewer is a huge invitation for dysentery and all sorts of other nasty diseases to spread like wildfire; and in a situation with diminished healthcare resource and fewer modern medications, what is currently inconvenient can quickly become lethal.
It also gives you a firebreak. With the loss of public water services, fires can be harder to fight, and spread quickly between nearby buildings. Ideally, of course, you’ll be able to modify the house you buy to ‘harden’ it against fire, or, even better, you will get an empty lot so you can build a house the way you want it, right from the start.
When you’re very close to your neighbors, and especially if you’re sharing a common structure, you’re beholden to them and you will be vulnerable to the consequences of their mistakes.
Your own extra space does a lot more than insulate you from the mistakes of your neighbors. You have some space to set out some solar cells (in addition to whatever might be on your roof, or perhaps instead of being on your roof, so as not to draw attention to yourself). You also have space for a generator and can park several vehicles securely.
Talking about being insulated from your neighbors, we’d urge you to avoid any type of property that is subject to a Home Owners’ Association, and be very wary of any attached covenants, codes and restrictions. Home Owners’ Associations can run amok and cause no end of problems to people like ourselves – people who may not be willing to conform to the most excessively politically correct mandates of the HOA.
Not only do you want to avoid the constraints of an HOA, you want to have a moderate amount of privacy on your lot – you don’t want to be looking out your living room windows and straight into your neighbor’s living room, and so on.
If you have your own freestanding dwelling structure, you also have your own roof, and so you can collect rainwater from it without any complicating factors. You can fireproof the structure too, and – while you’re at it – also make it ballistically stronger.
Even Non-Gardeners Should Have a (Small) Garden
One more thing about having some land. Yes, you’ve already decided you’re not going to live a life as a rural farmer, spending all days doing back-breaking work in the fields.
But we’d urge you to have a few rows of veggies in your back yard, or perhaps erect a small greenhouse (then you can even raise plants up off the ground and not have to bend over so much). Even a small bit of food independence (or, more accurately, less food dependence) might make a lot of difference when things get really tight and really tough. Grow some easy, resilient, fun things.
You’re growing such things to supplement your other food and income, rather than to survive from, and if you grow some non-standard food items, you might find them much appreciated by other people, too.
So, one of the framing factors in your location choice within the town will be the varying costs of having some land together with a freestanding dwelling – how much you feel you need and how much you can afford.
Having acknowledged that, you should choose a place as centrally located as possible. Sure, convenience is a good thing, and the ability to only walk for three or four minutes to get to your nearby Starbucks store in the morning is definitely a plus – well, okay then, maybe you’ve found the one town in the US that doesn’t yet have a Starbucks or analogous coffee shop.
For sure, you need to plan your future based on walking or riding a bicycle wherever you go in town, rather than driving a car.
There’s another reason for choosing to be close in to the center of the town as well. If your town gets attacked by marauding bandits, two things will happen.
First, unlike the wild west movies we see, the bad guys won’t ride into the middle of the main street, a yelling and a hollering as they come, then shoot up everything they see, then ride out of town again. Whereas, in the movies, the center of town seems to always be the most dangerous spot, in real life, we think it will be the safest.
Just like German U-boats against convoys in WW2 that would pick off the stragglers – the bad guys will attack, by stealth, the furthest out properties – the ones in the sort of grey zone where lot sizes have got larger, houses are further apart, and if you didn’t know the official city boundary line, you’d not be sure if they were in the town or not.
The second thing that will happen is a response to the first. Outlying residents will come in to the center of the town for protection, and at the same time, the people who live closer in will band together to protect themselves – and themselves only.
The city limits sign will have no meaning. The townsfolk in the center of the town will band together and protect only the inner enclave of their town. This will be the area where an attack on one building is ‘dangerously close’ to other nearby buildings, such that the neighbors feel they have to help defend. When the population density thins out some, if one building is attacked, neighbors will either cower under the kitchen table or run away, but when the population density rises, neighbors will feel that it is safer to help repulse the attackers, because they’ll perceive the direct danger to themselves much more starkly.
We’ve also seen analogous examples of this in history too – towns where the inner part was defended by a city wall, and the outer part – outside the city wall, was on their own.
Okay, we know our advice seems contradictory. On the one hand, you want to have a reasonable lot size, and a bit of privacy and buffer zone between you and the neighbors. On the other hand, you want to be close in to the town center for security and safety. Where do you compromise? That really depends on the layout of the town (and your budget).
When we talk about town layout we don’t just mean the streets and houses and plat maps, although that is of course relevant. We also mean the ways in and out of the town, and any geographic buffers/barriers that might provide protection – rivers and hills, for example.
Clearly, attackers will be very likely to approach from some directions and less likely to approach from others. This isn’t a military campaign, they are looking for ‘low-lying fruit’ and will leave difficult situations well alone (because there will be plenty of low lying fruit). So consider degrees of risk when choosing your location in a town, although the most important thing to appreciate is that if/when threatened, the town will ‘shrink in’ on itself, and only the dense central area will end up with the residents effectively uniting against external problems.
If you have a skill that can be used in a rural town after WTSHTF, then by all means plan your prepping on the basis of setting up your retreat in a town.
We discuss how to choose a suitable town separately. Once you have chosen a suitable town, in this article we explain where in the town is best to locate yourself.
About the Author:
David Spero has been prepping since before it was ever an issue. He remembers how his father would store vast quantities of food and supplies at home, and both of them thought it to be normal prudent actions – as, of course, they are. He has a masters degree in business, has worked internationally, speaks several languages, is a nationally accredited firearms instructor, a licensed ham radio operator, and through this website is becoming increasingly a respected authority on matters to do with prepping.
Learn More at: Code Green Prep