Inside the holy halls of prepper knowledge, lore and opinion, there is a mantra that goes something like this. The only way to survive TEOTWAWKI is to find a hidden retreat far from any large city and live there year-round as self-sustaining as possible. This definition of survival retreat has been around for years, and for myself and my family, it’s really a lifestyle I aspire to. I dream of a fortified forest house, streams rolling through my mountain place, solar panels, cattle in walls, plenty of wild game and wood-burning stove goodness all around me. However, there is a big problem with this mantra, because for the vast majority of us, the thought of moving everything we have because living in a cabin in the woods is almost impossible.
The flip-side of the mantra and conventional wisdom is that everyone living in or near the towns will die if you accept the argument that the hinter boonies are your best chance of survival. If you live in Northern Idaho, cutting wood for your stove and tending to your garden every day of your life, it can give you the concept that you are doomed. Is it the only option we’ve got? Will ultimate survival come down to living in a small handful of states or, no matter what, you are screwed? An oxymoron is Urban Survival? Are you doomed to die a miserable death if you are not one of the lucky ones living 2 hours away from the nearest Walmart? For most preppers, the real question is this – is Urban Survival possible?
The problem with surviving in urban environments
I will readily admit that you have problems living in urban settings that will make survival more difficult. A higher population of people living in closer confines is found in larger cities. This makes it much easier to deplete any existing resources such as food and fuel in times of crisis only because there is greater demand for those resources. The system is overwhelmed more rapidly by sheer numbers and the panic associated with a larger mass of people spreads faster, more chaotic and violent. It’d be almost like a swarm of locusts.
In addition, urban areas have few natural resources for the most part, unless you include homes, parking lots and natural resources that are concrete or asphalt. Sure, there are trees in the cities, and there’s Central Park in New York, but can you imagine how long it would take for Central Park to cut down each of its trees if a disaster happened and people needed wood fires to keep their families alive? Some major cities are built along rivers, but usually the water is so polluted that you wouldn’t want to bathe in it, much less try to eat anything that lived in it. In addition to the lack of natural resources, the abundance of good soil for food production does not exist, at least not in quantities sufficient to support the population of those cities. Due to the higher concentration of people and media attention, urban environments pose a greater risk of terrorist attacks. You will cause a much larger stir (and kill more people most likely) if you blow up a few buildings in New York than blowing up the same number of buildings in Steamboat Springs CO. It is the same with virus or disease in that in higher concentrations of people it spreads much faster. Larger cities pose a greater danger to a larger number of lives, so that the danger to your life is greater.
I’m not saying that you have a better chance of survival in towns, but in any prepping situation, I think we should be searching for alternatives.
Are there any advantages to urban environments?
Yes of course, urban survival prospects have definite issues, but do cities deliver any advantages at all? I think that if you know what you are looking for, you might find some advantages. To begin with, towns offer much safer buildings than rural environments. Large concrete buildings are much better than the walls of any suburban home at stopping bullets. I believe that in a worst-case scenario, cities would offer you a greater supply of materials to use as well. If you had to equip your car, Ala Crazy Max, if things got too bad, all those spikes and metal would be much easier to find in towns.
It would be much easier to scavenge scrap metal, fencing, chains, wires, and building materials in a city, as well as spare auto parts (batteries and tires). Try to build a fence out of trees or a coconut battery … Yes, this is a worst-case scenario, but at least I wanted to explore some of the possible upsides, as opposed to just suggesting that you’re going to die if you live in the towns. In the context of protection and observation, cities deliver a lot of benefits simply because you have tall, semi-hardened structures. A few blocks apart, you can place lookouts on 4 buildings and control a huge area using simple FRS radios.
What do you need for urban survival?
So now we have addressed some of the disadvantages and potential tools that you might take advantage of, what is really needed for urban survival? The basic truth is that in the cities you need the same stuff for survival as you do in the suburbs. If you find yourself trapped in the city after a disaster, the difference is discovering some resources you might be able to use to your advantage.
Food is a constant need for survival and I suggest preserving as much food as possible that you usually consume and growing it with some quantities of long-term storable foods such as freeze-dried foods or MREs. What are you going to do until your food supplies are gone? You’re going to need to do what the people in the burbs are doing, and that’s busting up some soil and increasing your food as soon as possible. I suggest that you have a stock of Heirloom seeds to do this as a backup, but starting now you will be given the best chance of long-term urban survival. That means that, of course, your city hasn’t been nuked.
Food co-ops are a great idea, but in a survival scenario, you will have to rely on yourself for food. One way to grow vegetables will be to have roof gardens. Can it feed an entire building? I don’t know, but it’s an option you have in the city that could enable your higher vantage point to produce food within the safety of your greater vantage point. A high number of homes in a relatively small area is another option afforded by the city. After a collapse, each of these homes will have food or supplies (assuming, of course, that no one lives there) that could be available for scavenging. Scavenging is a polarizing topic that I understand, but in a worst-case scenario, it would be an opportunity.
As most buildings have flat roofs that house machinery, rainwater collection may be a little harder in the area, but if you have a flat surface that collects water that can be redirected into tanks, it should function the same as anywhere else. Another aspect of urban living is that nearly every building has water sprinkler systems, which can hold many thousands of gallons of drinking water that should be safe or can be filtered with a good gravity filter. The trick would be to locate the main drain valve that is commonly found on the same floor in a stairwell as the fire sprinkler heads it supplies. Outside, the water may drain, so do not turn that knob unless you know where the water is going to come out. Optionally, some buildings directly on the roof have water tanks.
Fire hydrants are also a good water supply and you might be able to get millions of gallons from that supply alone if you find a low hydrant (lower elevation).
This seems to me to be one of the advantages of urban environments, which are weighed against the dangers, of course. You should have an array of shelter options, but protection is going to be a concern here. Many people will leave, many might die, in a TEOTWAWKI scenario. An available shelter that you can find should be available. I’d try to get up as high as possible and work to fortify my entrance so that it’s really hard for anyone to get in. I would look for warehouses with heavy metal doors before shops with glass windows, but you may have to look at several places before you find a suitable location.
In this regard, shelter will focus primarily on keeping you out of the elements initially. For something more permanent, for common defense and shared job duties, I would want to live with a larger group of people. Could these be the individuals living in your building at the moment? Can you monitor your building’s access now or after some fairly easy fortifications?
Related: How To Make A Shelter In The Woods
It will be extremely important for the safety of the people in your group and this will depend on observation at all times, a good communication system and a plan to deter threats. Solar panels mounted on the roof of buildings may keep your power supply from being seen from the ground and reduce the risk of theft (unless there is anyone in a higher building).
Control of access to stairwells could stop attackers from creeping up unannounced. From old furniture or appliances, even pieces of fence, barricades could be easily built. The height of the buildings would provide you with viewpoints and will allow you to funnel any traffic into one position that could be staffed by a few people with radio access to a roof spotter.
Will this all be possible? It’s going to rely on the disaster, where you are, what you have with you and a lot of other things. Can urban survival be more challenging? Perhaps, but I don’t think that’s hopeless. If you are forced out of the city by some serious problem, it might be better to stay while everyone leaves and tries to live on the road or in the woods.
I don’t think cities are going to be totally empty of people at the SHTF case. I think others will find a way to live for a long time, as humans have.
What do you thinking?