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The Pros and Cons of Being a Suburban Prepper

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: November 24, 2020
The Pros and Cons of Being a Suburban Prepper

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“Everyone who lives in the city is going to die when the SHTF.”

Have you ever been on a preparedness website and read that? It makes my blood boil, and not just because it’s a negative and discouraging thing to say. I am also not convinced that it’s correct.  Wherever you live, there are pros and cons, and your job as a prepper is to maximize the positive aspects of your location while taking steps to minimize the negative aspects.

This is especially true when it comes to the suburban prepper.

The Pros and Cons of Being a Suburban Prepper | Backdoor Survival

Although the mindset of those living in a rural community is, by necessity, more oriented toward self-reliance, living in the cities or suburbs is a fact of life for many.  Those sites or commenters which blithely tell people to pack up and head for the country are completely unrealistic.

There are many reasons that relocating is impractical for lots of folks who live in urban areas. Here are a few:

  • Elderly family members they care for who won’t relocate
  • Kids in school
  • Health concerns/medical care
  • Jobs – in this economy it is a bold move to let go of a sure thing
  • Owing more on a mortgage than you can sell your house for
  • Custody orders for minor children
  • The expense of a major relocation

So while the internet may act as though “moving” is an easy solution, there’s a lot more to it.

Because you don’t know the circumstances of others, it’s never a good idea to disparage where they live. While you may be very happy with your current location, that doesn’t actually mean it’s better than other locations. Each setting has its own benefits, and often you don’t realize what they are unless you’ve lived there. Comprehensive preparedness planning can make a home in the suburbs or city safe and well-stocked.

So, whether you live in a place with authoritarian laws, high population density, not enough space for self-reliance activities, or unfortunate weather conditions, the fact remains: you need to make the best of where you are. Every place on the planet has pros and cons.

In her recent article, “Bloom Where You’re Planted: Prepping to Survive Where You Are Right Now,” my friend Daisy Luther wrote:

While your current situation may be less than ideal, you have to remember that very few locations are actually perfect for prepping. Nearly anywhere you live will be subject to some type of extreme weather, be it crippling cold, blazing heat, drought, tornadoes, or hurricanes. Chemical spills can taint water supplies anywhere. Riots and civil unrest can occur outside of the big city.

The point is, to borrow an old saying, you just have to bloom where you’re planted.

There are many things you can do to create a viable preparedness plan wherever you happen to live.  Apartment dwellers at the top of a city high rise, folks in the middle of the desert, those in a beachfront condo, and people in HOA-ruled suburban lots all have to examine their situations, figure out their pros and cons, and work towards resolving what they can.  With some pre-planning, there is a lot you can overcome if you have the right mindset.  I suspect there are just as many (and probably far more) preppers living in the ‘burbs than there are living in perfect rural locations, with a lake, 10 acres of cultivated farmland, and an off-grid house.

Stop waiting until you move to the perfect location. Make preparations for the situation you have, not the situation you want.

The Pros of Living in an Urban Location

Urban locations are not without their benefits.  Here are a few pros for areas with higher populations.

1. There is ease of availability for supplies.

If you live out in the middle of Timbuktu, a stock-up trip takes a lot of planning.  I live on an island that requires a ferry ride to get to the mainland for shopping. If we needed to purchase last minute supplies, it would be a lot more difficult than just making a quick dash to the store.

For others who live remotely, “going to the store” can mean several hours in the car for the round trip, making it impractical to hit a good sale unless you have an outing planned during that time anyway. For those who are nearby, running across town to save some money is much more realistic.

2. A higher population means that you are less likely to have to go it alone.

Good neighbors can be a blessing. Do you have a friendly neighbor who would take responsibility for your kids if a disaster struck? In the event of civil unrest, your community can band together to combine skills and keep the neighborhood safe.

Ferfal, who wrote about surviving the Argentinian economic collapse, said that living in the country was absolutely not a guarantee of safety, because the isolation made families easier targets for home invasions.

3. In the event of an all-out disaster scenario, there are more resources for scavenging.

I’m not talking about a short-term incident of civil unrest with people looting televisions. But once you realize a situation has become long-term and that the way we lived before has ended, you may decide that it’s time to make a supply run to places which have been abandoned.

Scavenging is very different from looting! This will be easier, not to mention safer, if it’s closer to home.

4. Smaller spaces are easier to protect.

If it came down to just you and your family, do you feel like you could properly defend multiple acres from the unprepared? It takes a lot of manpower to cover fences and access points for that much land. However, a well-fenced suburban lot can be adequately guarded by only 1 or 2 people. With some creative planning,  you can be far more self-reliant than you would imagine in small spaces.

5. Urban areas are less likely to deal with specific scenarios.

Things like wildfires rarely threaten urban areas, but those living out in the secluded forest are far more at risk. As well, there are a number of predators the further you get from civilization. If you were to encounter a medical emergency, it takes someone in the country substantially longer to get help than it does someone in the city.

The Cons of an Urban Environment

Even with the benefits mentioned above, of course, there are also valid reasons that so many preppers strive to avoid living in the city. To be absolutely clear, while I don’t think everyone has to live in the boondocks, I do feel like the suburbs are somewhat safer than being right downtown.

Here are a few negative points to urban living:

1. When you live in the city, you’re more easily contained and controlled.

In the event of a martial law scenario, you will be far easier to corral if you are one of the people densely packed in an area that can be road blocked and guarded. Door-to-door searches for supplies or weapons can be much more efficiently undertaken in the city than they would be in a place where the homes are several miles apart.

2. Large population density means more competition for potentially limited resources.

While there are more resources to be had in an urban area, there are also more people looking for those resources. This means that if you are in competition for those resources, you either have to be early and get them before someone else does, or you must be more forceful than the other people going after those supplies.

3. The mob mentality can be very dangerous.

A mob mentality can be contagious. When swept up in an angry group, people will do things they’d never ordinarily do, and this can mean great peril. Think about the Black Friday shopping sprees where folks trample others just to get the deal on a bigger TV. Now imagine those people are hungry and they know you have food you aren’t sharing. You get the idea.

4. If you live in a high rise without direct access to the outdoors, it can be difficult to be self-reliant.

If you have a balcony, you can manage to grow some food for yourself. However, if you live in an apartment without any outdoor space at all, things get a lot trickier. That means you are unable to have micro livestock for protein, you probably have limited storage space for food and water, and growing vegetables will be difficult.  Without outdoor space, sanitation becomes more difficult as well.

5. City life is expensive.

Generally speaking, living in the city is a lot pricier than living in the country. Because of access to jobs, cultural activities, and educational facilities, places in town are in much higher demand. When you are spending double the amount on rent or mortgage, it can be harder to set aside money for prepping.

The Final Word

The fact is, we live where we live. There are many more people in our country living in suburban and urban areas, and lots of them are preppers. Disparaging the place where another chooses to live is short-sighted. Most of us weren’t born preppers, and we when we wake up and see the light, we can’t change our entire lives overnight. Besides that, there are numerous issues that can keep us in a location regardless of whether or not it’s ideal.

Before looking down on a person who lives in a place that you might consider undesirable, stop and think of all the reasons it may be necessary for them to remain there. And remember, country homesteads are not immune to disaster, either.

Wherever you live, take steps now to make the best of it. Find resources, build your stockpile, and prepare. No place is perfect and we can all improve our chances, regardless of where we live.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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Below you will find the items related to today’s article as well as some of my favorite preps.

Urban Emergency Survival Plan: Readiness Strategies for the City and Suburbs:  This is the book that tells you how to stay safe in the city.  As far as I am concerned, urban dwellers that plan to stay put in the city, no matter the circumstances, have been overlooked.  This book, by Jim Cobb (one of my favorite preparedness authors) is for you!

Prepper’s Home Defense: Security Strategies to Protect Your Family by Any Means Necessary: Another wonderful book by Jim Cobb. This book shows you how to implement a complete plan for operational security and physical defense.

Dorcy LED Wireless Motion Sensor Flood Lite: This light is awesome. I use mine downstairs as well as on my stairway and when I get up in the middle of the night, they come on automatically. They are quite unobtrusive and give off a ton of light.  Runs for a year on 3 D size batteries.

Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets (Pack of 10): I do believe in helping my neighbors in the community so a supply of these will be handy to hand out to those in need. You will be surprised at how warm these will keep you. Be sure to test one out in advance so that you have the confidence to trust the blanket in an emergency.

Kershaw OSO Sweet Knife: This “oh so sweet” knife is a solidly built, stainless steel knife that comes razor sharp right out of the package. It will pretty much cut through anything the price is amazing.

Sabre Family Home & Property Protection Pepper Spray:  This small fire extinguisher-style pepper spray delivers a strong blast covering an entire doorway. Offering extremely practical protection, SABRE provides distance from your threat with its 30 foot range.  I like that it includes a wall mount.

Ticket To Ride: This my favorite board game, bare none.  Family friendly, you will spend hours in front of the fireplace playing Ticket to Ride with your favorite people.  This is worth the splurge.


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14 Responses to “The Pros and Cons of Being a Suburban Prepper”

  1. My .02 cents. I have just started to think about prepping but more for staying in my suburban home. I don’t get the country mentality, after all “if” there are roving bands of people they are far more likely to be wondering the countryside, such as occurred during the depression. I doubt any single family can defend themselves alone 24 X 7. People aren’t stupid, they know to go to the country, not just preppers. If 100 people show up on your country doorstep asking for food are you really prepared to kill them all for the food and then claim moral superiority?

    The same can be said in the suburbs but it’s easier to get neighbors involved(because you have to) and much smaller lots to defend, if it really even comes to that.

    Now for the SHTF events, most of this is crazy talk. If there’s a war it will be an all out war and devastate the earth as we are so far advanced technologically with weapons. So forget about “surviving”. Hopefully that never happens.

    The second more likely scenario is a depression like the 1930’s, I don’t expect anarchy, it will just be tough. So prepping in this context is not planning to machine gun down 50 people but just survival, food, water, etc. I don’t believe basic gov’t services such as utilities will stop that much. If you research the depression era life did go on just more slowly and not everyone was out of work. That can be prepared for, the rest is just fantasy nonsense IMHO that you can do nothing about anyway.

  2. Nice article. I live in an urban area and struggle with the idea that I “should” really be in a more rural location…one reason we haven’t made that move and aren’t likely too in the near future is that my partner is not exactly a prepper. While I think that wouldn’t be a big obstacle in our particular situation (my partner is pretty open to living anywhere), I know there are a lot of other single prepper families out there in which that could be a very big issue. We love where we live and the conveniences and I do think there is something to be said for just doing what you enjoy while you can…a life changing disaster is just as likely to occur no matter where we live and that means it might never happen. So we live our life now as we like but prepare for the future. We are lucky though, I think, that despite being in the heart of a major city, we are less than a 30 minute drive from rural if we did feel the need to get out of dodge. I think if you do make the choice to live in an urban area, it’s important to have a specific plan for where you would go if you felt you needed to leave.

  3. Lots of good ideas.

    While there are serious downsides to living in certain parts of any city, the same is true of other places as well. No place is perfect, especially if one must consider the need to make a living. If one has a well paid job in a city, keeping that job, living frugally, and socking away money and preps may be a very good option for most likely problems.

    I am somewhat familiar with the effects of the Lebanese civil war on Beirut, and it was truly awful. However, it is important to remember that life went on there. In fact, a lot of the people in a small village in which I spent a couple months in the fall of 1975 (just as the war was really getting going) moved to the city.

    Cities have more resources than small towns and rural areas, and as Ferfal said about Argentina, isolated farm houses and even small towns are extremely vulnerable. People in isolated houses are particularly vulnerable to invasion: no one can hear their screams. That’s a pretty gruesome thought. The village I was in was OK early on, but after i got out it was taken over by the PLO and everyone was forced to start walking. No return home to get anything: just start walking or be shot. People walked.

    A frequently overlooked First Step in prepping is to sit down and really think about what are the likeliest serious problems which might occur where one is, what the consequences would be, and then what you need to be reasonably prepared. Everything comes after that because if you don’t know what to prepare for, you will likely have major holes in your preps, and waste resources on things you probably won’t need.

    Fortunately, prepping for most problems is fairly generic: stored water, food, the means to heat/cook it, first aid, self-defense, lighting, communication, cash, the need to get home if caught away from home, and so on. All of those will be influenced by what you think is likeliest, and what your chosen response will be.

    We live in suburban Honolulu, and a substandard construction house aside (in the case of a hurricane which is our likeliest disaster), we have few fears about the neighborhood. We won’t have any riots here: the population density is too low. Parts of downtown would be a different situation, but we don’t live downtown. Could we have looters? Sure, but again, we can defend against them better here than in an isolated house.

    We can grow food, but in reality, not enough to survive on long term. Instead we store food, and expect that any likely disaster which is neither remedied after three months nor be able to flee by catching a flight out by then is TEOTWAWKI, and that we won’t survive here. That’s life.

    In any case, we like the benefits of suburbia, and I used to enjoy the benefits of living downtown in a big city. I still would, for that matter. All parts of all cities are not overrun with violent criminals. If they were, people wouldn’t live there. It’s important to think about the pros and cons of all the major location options, and to prep for the downsides specific to wherever one chooses.

    I suggest thinking a bit about the scenario in the National Geographic movie “American Blackout”, specifically the couple living in the hi rise. They were utterly unprepared and suffered the consequences. Change that scenario a bit: make them preppers who planned on bugging in for a few weeks. All they would have needed was two weeks of water and food, and some method of self defense. Lights and a fire extinguisher would have been nice too. That is not a lot.

    If you can get by for a couple weeks, you can get through almost anything. Prepared for a month or for six weeks? The chances of needing more are really slim. Possible, and only you in your situation can know if six weeks or more are worth prepping for, but the chances are slender that you will more. If you think you do, go for it: You know your situation best.

    Remember: the people of Beirut kept going to their jobs all the way through the 15 year civil war. They had to pay rent, buy food, heat their homes, and their employers did as well. They kept going to the stores for food and other supplies. They didn’t always have wide choices available, but they got by. The economy plodded along with stops now and then when the fighting was particularly intense in that particular section of the city, but life went on.

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