The Urban Retreat

Sometimes You Have To Stay

Many of us want to have that rural homestead... maybe a cabin on a couple acres in the hill of Tennessee, perhaps a repurposed missile silo on the Wyoming prairie, could be a cottage on a rugged coast.  But we still have jobs, kids in school, bills, etc... so that dream might be a ways off.

We are fortunate to have a nice compromise.  We're in a small, rural county, but if you drive 35 minutes, you are in the heart of the state capital.  An hour in another direction puts you in an industrial urban area.  Forty-five minutes in yet another direction puts you in a very rural county, populated by long distance commuters, farmers, and watermen.

But what if that compromise won't work for you right now, for whatever reason?  Can you make a go of it in an urban environment?  I won't speak to the idea of living in a giant city of millions like NY, Chicago or LA - I've never lived in a place like that and would flee screaming if I had to.  I'm thinking of a city of 100,000 to a half million, maybe up to a couple of million living in the "greater" area.  A place with jobs, entertainment, colleges, and people.  Although not ideal, I think that with planning and creativity, it could be not too bad of place to ride out some disasters and personal crises.  I don't know that it would be too good for the long-term, wide-spread SHTF, but we take the cards we're dealt.

I'll give you two examples that I think could work pretty well.

When I was a teenager, my dad and step-mom lived in an Edwardian-era row house on Church Hill.  We were just blocks away from where St. John's Church where Patrick Henry gave his "Liberty or Death" speech before the Revolution.  When they bought the house, it had been turned into a duplex, and was pretty run down.  Over the years, we gutted and rebuilt from the inside out.  They also bought an adjoining half lot with a garage/carriage house on it.

It was a long house, two stories tall, with a crawl space.  On one side it adjoined the mirror image house through a brick wall.  On the other, there was a much shorter, more modern house.  Across the street was a park with a view of the river and old tobacco warehouses.  It was all brick construction, and very sturdily built.

Some Pros
  • Durable construction, it had withstood 80 years of weather, including blizzards, hurricanes and blazing sun.  The brick construction would also have been resistant to common caliber ammunition.
  • Good perimeter - the rear and side lots were protected by an 8 foot stockade fence.  The tiny front yard was set off by a wrought iron fence. 
  • Escape routes - roof access could lead to other homes on the block; a trap door into the crawlspace lead to the back yard.  From there one could either get out the back gate to the alley, or out the side lot to the garage or street.
  • Sustainability - the side lot was a great vegetable garden, roughly 25 x 30 feet.  My step-mom has quite the green thumb and at the time they were into making and canning chow chow and relish.  There were also plenty of small game and pest animals that could have been dinner if needed.  The river was about a mile, but a very steep walk to good fishing.
  • Community - the immediate area was occupied by a lot of similar people, and everyone helped everyone else.  Everyone also watched out for everyone else and was active in the neighborhood watch.
Some Cons
  • Crime - although we were never crime victims, there was a fair amount just blocks away.  Burglaries were pretty common, and street robberies (a friend got shot in the butt by a mugger) were not unheard of.
  • Dependency on the city - trash service, water/sewer, natural gas... all came from the city.  Back in the day, most of those homes had wells and outhouses, so that could be done again if it really came down to it.  They all had fireplaces, so trash, heat and cooking could have been taken care of.  But it wouldn't have been pleasant - imagine heating a room with 12 foot ceilings with a small coal grate fireplace.
  • Population density - it was crowded.  Each block had 12 to 15 homes, some of which were duplexes.
This is running longer than I expected, and it's getting late.  I'll wrap up tomorrow with my other example and and some closing thoughts.


  1. I live in a very old(100 Year old) apartment and the taller windows with transoms makes my apartment a very nice cool place to live. My building is all brick and old stucco and is built very well. I just worry about a very large earthquake hit us. I live in an area in the rockies that is prone to large scale earthquakes and we have not had one for a long time now and are probably overdue for a whopper.
    I look forward to the other part of the post. Great job by the way.

  2. man i love your blog but it hoses my computer everytime i come to it. no probs w/ other blogs.try to post comments but most times it won't post.if this come thru, good job, keep up the good work.i'll be silently watching in the future until the kinks are figured out at least.take care.out


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