One of the key things in developing your retreat is to create or become part of a community. You can’t viably ‘go it alone’ in a dangerous situation.
Depending on the scope of your plans, there are several ways to become part of a community. Most people immediately assume they will have a multi-acre block of land to themselves, and as for becoming part of a community, they will simply befriend their adjoining land-owners immediately around them, and – hey, presto! Instant community.
That’s fine, and if it works for you, so much the better. But a rural community of adjacent farmers/ranchers is not the only type of community that will be created, or which currently exists and may survive, and further more, while working together with your rural neighbors is both essential and positive, the chances are that even when you pool all your various resources and abilities together, there are still large gaps in needed skill sets, abilities, equipment, and so on.
Even in the most extreme of Level 3 situations, there will be a need for small service towns/villages. These will be (and currently are) places where the nearby farmers can go to buy sell and trade, to get services, to benefit from pooled resources such as education, healthcare, maybe law enforcement that require at least a small amount of ‘economy of scale’ to be feasible, and also as a place to socialize and to meet as a community to discuss/resolve regional issues.
This is very different in concept from most towns and cities these days. Modern and larger urban creations exist purely for themselves and are sustained internally (or externally via concepts that would not apply after TEOTWAWKI), rather than to service the surrounding country dwellers.
In contrast, a rural town is more outward looking and exists as a service point for its immediately adjacent rural community. It has an essentially similar economic base today as it has always done ever since the founding of our country, and as it has done for centuries prior to then in the UK and Europe. It is typically small, with perhaps a one room schoolhouse, a one cell jail, a general store, a doctor, a dentist, a couple of specialty stores and service providers, maybe a lodging house, church, bar and restaurant, and is almost always located strategically on a route to somewhere (and more likely, is not on a spur to a larger town/city, but is on a road that connects larger population concentrations on either side of it).
The Evolution of Rural Towns
These days many rural towns have grown in size to become larger than has historically been the case (or have simply died out entirely). This is because the ease of modern-day transportation has meant that instead of the local community needing small towns every ten miles, it is now sufficient to have larger towns every twenty or thirty miles. The traveling time and cost and inconvenience to go 20 – 30 miles today is less than it was to go a mere ten miles in an earlier time.
But please note the distance constraint will become an issue again in a Level 2/3 situation, when road maintenance will be neglected and fuel for vehicles will be either scarce or prohibitively expensive or possibly both. Instead of thinking ‘I can drive 70 miles on the freeway to a town in an hour, and pay only $6 in gas to do so’ people will think ‘it will take me almost two hours to travel by horse and cart ten miles, and more than a day to travel 70 miles’, and so closer towns will become essential once more.
The key thing about any town is that if it is to survive in Level 2 and 3 situations, it will be because it exists to provide services to the people living rurally in the immediate area.
Many small rural towns these days exist for reasons other than primarily being a service provider to nearby rural residents. Don’t confuse these types of towns with real locally focused towns, because these other ‘artificial’ towns are less likely to survive.
For example, if a town is currently a tourist retreat, it will not survive (there won’t be many tourists in such a dystopian future). If it is based around some type of local industry that relies upon the normal social and economic functioning of the normal world, it again will not survive (what happens when the industrial employer can no longer source its raw materials or sell its finished goods, and so can not pay its employees?). This is as true if it is a traditional industry (perhaps a saw mill) or a ‘new’ industry (maybe a server farm for an internet company).
If it is a retirement town with a large community of senior citizens living off their retirement checks, and augmented healthcare services to meet their needs, it again will not survive (what happens when those retirement checks stop coming in?).
Another factor when considering the viability of a small town is to evaluate its dependence on external sources of water, food and energy. Clearly, the more it needs to bring these three essential commodities in from ‘somewhere else’, the more its future viability is vulnerable to the disruption of the supplies of these things.
A viable town has its own water supply nearby, and sources its food from nearby farms. Energy is more of a concern, with it being rare to find a small town that has its own city energy source. And even if it did, the chances are that the energy generation relies upon bringing in supplies of coal, natural gas, or oil fuel. Only if the town has a dam and hydro power is it reasonably energy-independent.
Why are we raising these issues? Four reasons.
Four Reasons Why a Nearby Town is Important to You
First, if it is your plan to create a rural retreat, you still need to have an eye to being within reach of a nearby small township. You can’t possibly hope to have every skill set, every experience, every knowledge base, every type of equipment, and so on, yourself, on your retreat. You will need to be able to turn to specialist providers of supplemental skills from time to time.
You’ll also want a place where you can buy things you need and don’t have, sell things you have produced, and/or trade and exchange and barter the one for the other.
Some type of town within a reasonable distance (think non-motorized transport when evaluating distances) is therefore a huge benefit and boost to your own survivability.
Secondly, not all current towns are the same. Some will fail just as surely and completely as the big cities, while others will survive and may even thrive. For example, the small town with the struggling hardware store and grocery shop will find that people no longer drive an extra 40 miles to go to Wal-Mart, Costco, or Home Depot, but instead necessarily return to doing business at the closer alternate.
You need to evaluate the towns that are close to potential retreat locations and assess if they are likely to survive and to add value to your retreat lifestyle, or if they are more likely to fail and instead become a source of problems for you at your retreat.
Thirdly, many people make an automatic assumption that a retreat needs to be in a deserted rural area, ‘safely’ far away from other people. That’s not necessarily the case at all. If life on a farm isn’t your idea of a good time, maybe you have a set of skills and personal lifestyle preferences that would fit better into a small town environment. Maybe instead of being a land-owner needing a blacksmith, you can become the blacksmith. Maybe you can establish the trading mart where the local people (both town-folk and farmers) do their buying, selling and bartering. Maybe you can become the local saloon owner. The local schoolmaster or schoolmistress. And so on.
Fourthly, and this is the big one, maybe there is an opportunity for you to start your own new town. If there have been towns close down over the last 100 years, but if there is still a reasonable rural population, who now rely on good transportation options to travel further distances, maybe you could consider establishing a new fledgling township and activate it if/when a Level 2/3 event occurs.
This would require some considerable capital investment on a very speculative basis, and so is not suitable for many people to consider. But creating a substantial rural retreat is not an inexpensive concept either, and so maybe it might be a more appealing concept for you to prepare a skeleton of a new township. You’d probably still have some ‘town gardens’ in it for immediate food growing, but rather than creating a rural retreat with the purpose of keeping people away for safety, maybe your strategy instead is to create the kernel of a settlement that could grow into a service town, and instead of keeping people away, you’d want to welcome people into it for safety.
Whatever your relationship will be with a town, being either a part of or close to a ‘good’ town that will survive is a key part of your retreat location evaluation and decision.