How to balance community and independence (City vs Rural living)

Let me ask my “simple” question first and provide more context afterwards:

How do you balance the need/desire for community with the space/cost restrictions required for higher independence with regards to long term prepping and where you choose to live?

The general consensus is that urban centers are not ideal or potentially even sustainable/viable in a long term or extreme crisis (i.e food, water, and security scarcity during an infrastructure breakdown).  The converse is that (up until recently, at least) urban centers are/were also educational, cultural, economic, and sometimes technological hubs enabling increased wealth generation and oppertunity.  Basically the very thing that makes urban areas desireable (dense populations of individuals enabling proximity based network effects to propagate) also puts them at risk of collapse under conditions of scarcity (a lack of carrying capacity when economic or infrastructure links degrade).  Modern telework enables a broader range of “commute” options/ranges but good old fashioned human connection requires proximity to other humans.

Obviously you can (try to) integrate into new, smaller communities in less densely populated areas.  Church, family, or cultural connections might help with such integration if these options are open to you.  When you lack these built-in connections (lower friction network effects) – are there other options?

The closest I can think of is something along the lines of scouting out retirement communities or searching for enclaves of whatever [tribe(s)?] you are already a part of that happen to have already ‘colonized’ a less densely populated area.  Part of my mental struggle is the somewhat modern day norm where your ability to connect with [like minded] people implies that you might not know most of your neighbors but might have dozens if not hundreds of friends within a 45 minute commute range.

I suspect there aren’t easy/cost effective answers but I’m really curious to hear the opinions of others, especially if built in connections to “community” in more rural areas were not already present.  If money were not a factor the answer would be a vacation home that was well stocked, alas money is a consideration for most so owning more than one home seems unlikely.


  • Comments (13)

    • 11

      When we moved to our rural, close knit town, we were lucky that we had young kids and could try to build connections with other parents. In the absence of that, social media would be my go-to for initiating connections without knowing anyone. Many rural communities have local community FB pages where people post information, town activities, etc.

      Volunteering will likely be a big one, and ex-urbanites will have to be willing to branch out of their comfort zone in order to make friends. For example, if you are a non-religious type like me moving to a rural community where the church and local school are really the only community bases in town, you might need to be willing to volunteer and contribute to their sponsored events like suppers, food pantries, book drives, and the like. This may make people uncomfortable if they don’t philosophically agree with the given religion, or if they aren’t “kid people” but the alternative is to be really socially isolated which stinks.

      Next door/street neighbors are another major social connection in rural areas. In urban areas you have so many people around you don’t really need to rely on your neighbors for socializing. It sounds old school, but trying really hard to build a good relationship with your neighbors is going to be key. Those neighbors will in turn introduce you to others in the community or put different activities/groups/events on your radar that you would not know about on your own.

      • 8

        Actually now that I think about it…I’m now friendly with more people of different ages and political/religious beliefs as a country dweller than when I was in the city/suburbs. I’ve noticed that here alot of us do not talk about politics or religion until we really know and like the person already, whereas in the city, it was all about finding people who already had the same opinions/beliefs/lifestyles as me first, and then building the friendship from that. So maybe the question isn’t so much “how to find people out here who are like me?” as much as “how do I make friends out here even if they are really different than me?”

      • 8

        Thanks, I appreciate the feedback.  I realize on rereading what I wrote ‘my urbanism was showing’ a bit, but I may need my biases pointed out to me at times.

        I agree on your point about finding people with the same ‘opinions/beliefs/lifestyles’ – I wasn’t meaning to spin it that I’m looking for people exactly like myself but its good to have that reminder.

    • 6

      “The general consensus is that urban centers are not ideal or potentially even sustainable/viable in a long term or extreme crisis”

      Could you explain this a little more? Is this a new situation? Obviously there are many cities that have outlasted many severe/long-term crises…

      • 6

        I guess I was referring to the more severe, existential threat types of situations, your classic disaster movie scenarios.

        The short version that I posit is: people in cities require food, water, and for all practical purposes [in the modern age] electricity (elevators, air conditioning, refrigerated food storage, commerce) to achieve the basics of survival.

        If food, water, and I’m arguing (but its perhaps debatable) electricity stop coming into cities for any reason many will face problems within days, unless the crisis is resolved.

        There are other types “crises” that are less severe but not existential in nature.  So poverty, unemployment, crime (to an extent, war is potentially existential), drug abuse, inequality, and even some forms of economic crisis are all various types of crisis aren’t really existential (you won’t starve immediately at a city scale) and thus survival longer term (if not ideal).  Like, [Saint Petersburg?] “survived” the Siege of Leningrad, but you probably didn’t want to be there if you could avoid it.

        The allure of country living for survival/prepping purposes is that if you have even a few acres you can grow your own food, dig a well, and either deploy solar/backup electricity generation or at least not require electricity for an elevator, RFID locks on an apartment building.  More land = more options for self sufficiency, but with it comes an associated cost (both financial and potentially social if you can’t build a replacement social network).

        Some of the above may be playing off stereotypes or bad information, I welcome corrections and additions to my education, but this is the “general consensus” I was referring to.

      • 10

        Devil’s advocate: I think the generally accepted survival wisdom that cities become death traps in case of disaster is an overblown and poorly supported concept. I lived through a two week power outage in a city, and no one shot each other (well, no more than usual; we probably averaged one homicide citywide in a week?). NYC didn’t turn into Escape from New York during/after Sandy either. If you completely cut off food, medicine, communication, transportation etc. from a city, people will start dropping like flies, but the same would be true in a rural area. Think of the amount of damage that a disaster needs to do to completely wreak the power/communication/transportation grid in a city such that it’s not coming on again for months; how much damage would your country homestead sustain from that? How about your neighbors that you rely on?

        It’s somewhat harder to increase your personal self-sufficiency in a city than in a rural area, but on the other hand there are more people around who can help you, and cities are higher priorities for restoration of services. I’m sure we could think of various specific scenarios where it turns out to be better to be rural, but the converse is also true, there are specific scenarios where the cities come out much better as well.

      • 8

        I believe you and appreciate the “Devil’s advocacy” – and welcome more of it, actually!

        I have a question though, can you describe how that two week power outage in a city went?  I lived through a week long power outage in the suburbs post hurricane Isabel in 2003.  It was after the summer peak so it wasn’t unbearably hot, if I recall.  We had gas, water, and telephone lines still intact.  Our family had a laptop and power inverter we could run from a car, we even got online through a dial up modem to check email (those were the days…)!  I have a vivid memory of standing in line behind a semi-truck to get a bag of dry ice to try and keep food in the freezer from going bad as fast.  But everything was back to normal after a week and it’s not hard to live off of unrefrigerated/room temperature stable (pasta and vegetarian food).  II can’t remember the exact details, I suspect they got power back for gas stations, grocery stores, and various commercial areas pretty fast – so it wasn’t a full stop for all activity either.

        I’m asking out of genuine curiosity – I actually don’t know any better what its like beyond my own fairly mild experience.

      • 5

        It certainly wasn’t fun. I think I technically live in an inner suburb. Power was gradually restored, so after about a week a significant part of the city had it again (but not us). Even if just a small part of the city has power, you can go there to get gas for the car (electric pumps) groceries etc. We still has gas and water, but no power, no Internet. We agreed at the time if the water went out, we were probably going to bug out (we could have survived that, but it would have been worth it to take vacation days from work to drive somewhere else that was unaffected and wait).

        It was the hottest part of the summer; I remember sleeping in a hammock on my balcony because it was 80 degrees+ in the middle of the night and I simply couldn’t sleep in a puddle of my own sweat on the bed. We would head down to the basement laundry room and hang out for an hour or two to cool off sometimes as well, or take a cold bath. I had a small solar setup that lit up the living room and could charge cellphones or run a DC fan. We also had solar lanterns we would charge during the day and use in the kitchen/bathroom at night. We read books and listened to NPR on a pocket radio for news/entertainment in the evenings. After maybe four or five days (?) my work on the other side of town had power so I was going into a normal office and coming home to the outage.

        We did the usual move of stuff from fridge to freezer after a day to extend ‘refrigeration’ in our now not-so-frozen freezer by a few days. I think we managed to eat everything that was going to go bad before it did. I can’t exactly remember how we ate after that; probably a lot of shelf-stable stuff that would give you scurvy eventually. We might also have gone shopping once in another part of town that had power, but for smaller amounts so it wouldn’t go bad?

        Again, it wasn’t fun, but we probably could have lived that way for months without serious damage to our health. I’ve lived in somewhat austere conditions on trips to 3rd world countries, and honestly, after a week you pretty much get used to it. If it had happened during the coldest part of winter, it would have been a much bigger threat, and I would have been worried about people freezing and/or burning down buildings with improvised heat.

    • 7

      Your overall question/framing is why my partner and I decided to live where we do, as a sort of compromise between the two ends of the spectrum: We live in an actually-interesting but relatively-small suburb outside of a major metro, but on the border / in the direction where just past us it becomes rural for quite a while. Can drive 30-45 minutes to get anything a city has to offer, or 30-45 minutes to be in a wilderness area / place where open carrying is normal.

      (Which has another intentional bonus that, as the urban area expands, our area will gentrify and property values will go up, giving us a nice boost when we sell and go further rural.)

      We felt the ‘pull’ to go even further off-grid given the standard desire to have more space for self-sufficiency and so on. Although it’s always bad to try and ‘time the market’, that did factor into the thinking because we generally believe things will get worse over decades + there’s probably another decade to go before things really start to erode, so it felt like we ‘have some time’ to still hang around civilization before retreating to the country as we get older. (That said, much of how 2019-2020 has influenced us is that we now think that timeline is more compressed.)

      Good satellite internet and driverless cars will be the keys to being able to move further away from civilization while still feeling connected to people around you, still having solid economic opportunities, and so on. That’s probably still 5-10 years away.


    • 4

      There are a few easy ways to meet people in a small town.  First of all, remember that the social contract is different in small towns: people generally want to stop and chat, or at least say hello in passing. 

      We have a dog and walk her twice a day.  This gets us out into the neighborhood constantly, meeting not just dog owners but anyone else out walking or doing yard work, etc.

      Speaking of yard work, if you’re thinking about prepping you’ll probably be doing lots of gardening work outside on your property.  I’ve been out planting fruit trees and bushes for much of the last week, and I nearly spent as much time chatting with passers-by as I did actually digging holes.  It’s cliche, but people are more outwardly friendly in small towns.  If you don’t find them, they’ll find you!

      With that said, we don’t live super rurally – we’re near the downtown of a small town of about 5,000 people, but I feel like we’re in a pretty good sweet spot: we bought a double lot so we have lots of space to grow food, but we also have lots of neighbors and plenty of opportunity to run into people.  We’re within walking distance of a hardware store, pharmacy, tennis courts, etc. but the town isn’t big enough or close enough to a major city to worry about the particular afflictions of large urban centers.  We even have fiber-to-the-home internet!

      Lastly, I’ll echo what others have said: volunteering is a great way to meet people.  And unless your hobbies are very uncommon, you’ll find like-minded people, even in a small town.  My wife and I like playing board games, but there wasn’t a local shop, so we started a drop-in board game night and ran $30 worth of ads on Facebook to get the word out.  Our first night we only had 6 people show up, but 2 of them became great friends, and our last event we had 16 people.  Not the kind of turnout you’d find in a big city, but still plenty of people to play games and have fun with!

      Good luck! 🙂

      • 1

        I live in a rural city and everyone here waves hi to each other in passing when driving. My wife will walk the dog and people will later come up to us in the store and say, “You live in our neighborhood and walk your dog a lot don’t you?”

        I am jealous of your fiber internet connection though!

    • 3

      Living 40 miles from town is actually less sustainable than living only 10 miles out— if you live like a typical suburbanite. The reason is you are without the suburb’s infrastructure.

      Living a typical suburban lifestyle in a grass-seeded unwalkable suburb is in turn, less survivable in the event of an event than living in a densely packed urban center with massive infrastructure, legions of utility, transport, public service and retail workers.

      The squeaky wheel gets the oil. They didn’t send the USS Comfort up the Mississippi to treat COVID patients, they sent it to NYC. Large cities can be more resilient because of the greater economy, even when the economy fails. There is no backup coming to Butcher Holler, not now, not ever.

      The point is, unless a person makes a concerted effort to built and maintain their OWN resilient infrastructure, it really doesn’t matter where you are. If you have a small lot in town but can put some PV on your roof, collect rainwater, plant a perennial food landscape… you are miles ahead of the guy who lives 40 miles out feeds 3 horsey lawn ornaments and mows a 5 acre lawn every week on his $10k zero-turn rider.

      Granted, besin resilient is much harder to do in a rented apartment, but an apartment in a non-failing city is better than a trailer in Appalachia. 

      We’re pretty autonomous. We don’t congregate, don’t desire to be entertained or amused. I don’t belong to any prepper group, to be perfectly honest I don’t want to be on anyone’s target list and I’ve met some sorta squirrely characters going to prepper meetups and read lots more over the years (present company excepted of course). 

      Suffice to say, no way I’d be comfortable around any group that would have me as a member. LOL

      In the day to day we aren’t antisocial, just find most people less than interesting. We’ve never lived in a city, only small towns and backroads. Basically our community has always been our neighbors, whether we lived in town or out. More than likely in the event of excitement the people in earshot are the people you’ll be dealing with mostly, any further is wasted effort.

      • 1

        100% agree, I wish we lived closer because we do need to go into town often for doctors appointments, groceries, entertainment. And with how gas prices are going up, it becomes harder to justify driving so far.