The Pros and Cons of Being a Suburban Prepper

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

“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. I think the reasons listed for living in an urban setting, is the reasons for “not” living in an urban setting.

  2. Thank you Gaye for this article. I am in a medium/small town not far from a large city. Due to economics and our health moving is out of the question the Hubs and I can’t move to a more “rural” area so we are “blooming” where we live. As a new prepper at one time, I found myself worried that I “gotta” get a BOL, gotta get this, gotta get that, etc but with articles like this and the friends I’ve made on a couple of other sites, I’ve calmed down and am working to make sure the family (and the friends) will have a place to go if there ever is a SHTF situation.

  3. We raised our three (now adult) children in SoCal, survived numerous larger earthquakes, 1992 Rodney King Riots, and many many brushfires so prevalent in SoCal. thankfully, we had to re-locate to care for the in-laws to another state. Yes it was hard to leave long-term friends and the well-known “routine” and the “Crush of humanity” in trying to go anywhere. Traffic there is NEVER measured in miles, it is measured in TIME, as in hours it takes.
    I often found myself concerned with my family’s well being when as a law enforcement officer, “How would I fight my way home to get to my family if…..happened?” We decided to control our own little sphere of influence. We planted nasty rose bushes that grew into impenetrable hedges higher than the City-Code specified fence heights of 6 feet. Nothing in the City Codes about “hedges” at all. Try climbing the fence only to have to go through heavy rose spined hedges. Got two large GSD’s for our family’s “companionship” and protection,far better than the alarm system and they never went off by accident.
    Yes, smaller areas ARE more easily defended! Great article on “Blooming where you are planted!” Well done.(and no, we do not know have a BOL or “retreat” we do have almost a whole acre now, something we never could have afforded in SoCal and NO HOA issues to deal with either.) You can be as creative as you choose to be, wherever life finds you. Think of the “restrictions” are mere minimal rules and go UP from there! Can’t own a handgun? Get a lever action rifle, like the cowboys have, that’s the ORIGINAL “cowboy assualt rifle” and always looks “friendly”.

  4. You are right .. You are where you are. You can do something to help.. so do it.
    If you are OK with the risks of Urban survival in a grid failure, ok, but be aware of the risks.
    The majority of events will not tax the urban resources available to failure.. When and if they do, people will have no choice but to move outward or starve.. and that will be hard. If you have to leave, have a plan for leaving and decide earlier rather than later. Interpret what you see realistically, not how you want it to be. I have a dimmer view of human nature, to your lighter view and that is perfectly ok.. Often how you expect people to be affects how they actually are. I am not sure in the absence of resources that you can count on the people you kinda know .. it’s a risk certainly. I hope YOU are right and I am wrong, because it would be less risky and dangerous. On the other hand, I lose very little assuming a dimmer view and not being there for the risk. Your blog teaches skills.. very good to know. I read it written the other day Preppers store up “stuff” to get the by and Survivalists store skills. If you have skills and leave it my be good for barter into a group that needs them. good post ..

  5. So happy this post is up my alley….we are farmers with much land and equipment and all the debt goes with this lifestyle….we will be staying put…we live in a large woods…and we have all our extended family living close isn’t an option to go anywhere far away…in fact in the Midwest there are no hills and hollers to hide in…..but we are prepped and all our people are coming here to put up a front when strangers start to show up….I would much rather be on familiar turf.

  6. Gaye …look back at your blog on the pioneer skills have paragraph in there about what homesteader is and how they are the preppers of the best kind……re read it is a beautiful way to explain what you asked….

  7. The first and the last items you mentioned are the only two that pertain to us. The last one is generic to everyone, I guess, in that it takes a ton on money to make a relocation for any reason. The first one is the item we came to grips with really quick. That being, the elderly’s refusal to move. Time is short and we are far, far past the point of listening to the midget mentality of, “I gosh I was born and raised in this house and this is where I am going to die.” Well, ok mom, if that’s what you want then so be it. When the lights go out, good luck in your wheelchair. Decisions have to be made and they can’t be made listening to such nonsense as, “This is my home and I’m not leaving it.” Homes can be rebuilt if there is ever a reprieve after teotwawki. I can’t rebuild if I’m lying dead in the ashes of some old house that has no value except distant memories of a long gone childhood. Make the tough decisions people. If you don’t, reality will make them for you.

  8. Blood boiling or not, if you are in Atlanta, Houston, LA, Chicago, or anything resembling one of these places,even a midsize town when, during, or after teotwawki, then you are dead. Please allow me to put it this way. I have delivered freight of all kinds to every major city in the lower 48 states. No brag, just fact. And it is difficult enough to stay alive in these cities during the good times in broad daylight with law enforcement patrolling the streets. The life expectancy of anyone, regardless of how well they are prepped and armed, in one of these areas will be measured in minutes or hours, not days or weeks after the lights go out. The unrequited violence will be instant and never ending, consuming anything that gets near it. ANYTHING! If you or anyone else has any doubt about this then please go to any city of any size in America and walk the streets after sundown. Good luck! It is complete insanity to place yourself and your loved ones in such malignant harm’s way. INSANITY! The new fad in Detroit is for a group of six thug men to walk the streets until they find a man and a woman and repeatedly rape the woman while the man is forced to watch. Is this what you want? Then go for it. I moved out in ’09 and regardless the cost, it was worth it. You have to give yourself a fighting chance. You have too. No exceptions.

  9. I totally agree, I’ve recently moved to the suburbs from a small town and people are SO friendly and helpful. We recently had a wildfire here and neighbors were helping neighbors. My children live close to us and that alone is worth it for me. No, I don’t have a farm, but I do have a well stocked pantry, water put away, and some wonderful neighbors in a good part of town. Not expensive, but good. I think we are in the best place for us.

  10. I live in a tiny suburban town and while I haven’t had to deal with a major crisis yet, I’d like to think the wife and I are safer here than in a big town, but we aren’t up to being homesteaders, so here is where we are likely to stay. A small garden, which can be scaled up if needed and almost two years of supplies hidden away should mean we’re better off than 99% of folks around us. I never talk about our physical security, so make of that what you will.

    As to OpSec, we have a standby generator and live on a main road….so in most situations we’ll be noticed, but so far all we’ve had to deal with are hurricanes and blizzards. Of course being neighborly, I have lots of power strips and a few folding tables that I can setup either in my garage or just outside it if we have an extended utility outage that doesn’t impact natural gas. That way I can let people recharge their phones and tablets without them seeing what we have for food or other supplies. I’ll leave it to the food pantry at the local churches to feed folks who didn’t plan ahead….I don’t want to be a target of folks whose morals are flexible enough that they think it’s my problem that they didn’t plan. A bit of power for their phones, sure. Food or water that I may need for my family….forget about it!

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

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