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The disadvantage of living in the city is that there are fewer natural sources of food, water, heat and shelter. The advantage is that there are lots of people with whom to form networks and alliances. No matter where we live, we’re all going to need our friends.

In your house:

In most end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it shows, the characters come across stashes of canned goods. But, in fact, most cities have about five days’ food, including what’s on the store shelves and warehouses, so there simply won’t be a stash of canned goods unless you stash it yourself. So there’s your first task: get yourself at least three days of shelf-stable food (canned and dried), vital medications, heat and water. Three days is the official period of time that rescue organizations expect you to look after yourself in an emergency. Obviously, the more resources you have, the longer you can stay in your home. Make sure you have somewhere to go after those three days, and that you will be welcome.

A lot of people’s resilience planning is limited to moving to some fictional location in the country to live off the land. This isn’t a bad plan as long as you know where you are going, have the skills to coax the means to live from the land, and the people who already live off that land know who you are and like the idea that you’re coming! In the absence of all that, it is wise to develop networks of people who think the way you do. Hopefully, they are close by (transit might not be working).

In your neighbourhood:

Remember that the people who live next door are the people you will be relying upon, so your relationship with your neighbours is essential. Do they care about you enough to share their resources? Will they check to make sure you’re okay? Probably the single most important thing you can do to increase your resilience in the city is to become interdependent on your closest neighbours. If you get in the habit of looking after each other now, you will have fewer challenges looking after each other in the future.

Photo: Urban Eden

Any social organization that you can actually walk to – community league, Neighbourhood Watch, community gardens — presents an opportunity to improve local relationships. If you live in an apartment building, decisions about whether you can stay in your home are likely going to be made for you. Form a tenant association and work on your building’s resiliency: storage for food and water (and a way to get it up to the top floor), at least one backup heat source and a plan to make sure everybody stays okay. If you get push-back from your landlord or cannot get a planning committee together, you know that there is no real commitment to making sure you can stay in your home when and if things go sideways.

Local government:

Lots of people interested in self-sufficiency and resilience have a bit an anarchist or libertarian streak: we don’t want to rely on the government for help. But the fact is that government is the primary way we organize ourselves, and resilience is all about organization.

If you’re lucky, you live in a city that can be fed, watered and heated from the surrounding countryside. So phone up your municipality and ask to see the emergency management plan. Ask to see the food security plan. Ask to see the resilience plan.

(If they don’t have these plans, pester. Most citizens don’t realize their own power: a few well-placed calls can get a lot of action.)

Read through these plans to see if they’re actually going to work. Bring them to your neighbours and community groups. Generally, you’ll notice that, if all these plans are activated, you’re still not going to stay alive for more than a few weeks, especially in winter. Keep pestering until your government (and your neighbourhood) can keep you alive through a winter and well into the growing season. Relationships are the key to urban resilience.

Here are a few resources:

Rural Disaster Resilience Planning Guide

Local Governments for Sustainability, Urban Resilience Planning