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Coming Collapse: A Community Checklist

The Coming Collapse: A Community Checklist

by Steven Laguvulin, Deconsumption Blog


The following items represent a kind of checklist of things I believe we’ll have to consider when seeking a community which might give us the best chances of dealing with the coming collapse. I imagine it’s not perfect or complete or even fully applicable to every particular situation. But for me these characteristics form a sound basis for evaluation

So in deciding where I want to be for the next decade or more I want to be very clear about my reasons for accepting anything that doesn’t measure up.

1) It should be a small community with a small town or two as its focus. The optimal population will vary depending on resources, but I would guess that anything over 50,000 people will probably be too great, while anything under 5,000 people may not have enough diversity of labor (these numbers are debatable). A small town gives the community a center of focus, which will be crucial for communicating and reorganizing the way of life. Regardless, the community shouldn’t be too "scattered".

2) It should have some vestige of a pre-petroleum infrastructure and traditions. Admittedly, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean the town must have been established long ago, although older communities will probably offer the best opportunities in this regard. Older farming towns in the Northeast and Midwest are good examples. How many of the houses and buildings depend solely on propane or gas? Are there still people practicing traditional trades and crafts, or other skilled "cottage industries"? Is there an active Farmer's Market?

3) It should have abundant fresh water. Surface water is dicey for regular consumption, but may have many other advantages. A reliable water-table (indicating reliable well-water) is probably ideal—and then again, abundant surface water will generally be an indicator of the latter. One caveat: per item #9 below, I would personally shy away from anything located along a major waterway because of increased traffic and pollution concerns. For instance I've seen photos of the shanty-towns that grew up along the Mississippi River during the Great Depression, and obviously similar situations exist in other very poor countries...which means there will be human waste-flow all the way downstream. Admittedly, however, the transportation opportunities that being on a large waterway offers may be important in a post-oil world. It's a consideration. In general, though, water purity measurements and concerns are critical to research.

4) It should have abundant sustainable farming/dairy/cattle ranching in the immediate area. Corporate farming is actually a detriment for a variety of reasons (and such farms may not even be able to commit their produce to the local community anyway). Keep in mind that we're only looking toward practical solutions we can embrace right away, so for our immediate needs "sustainable" doesn’t have to be defined too strictly and might be almost anything that doesn’t severly deplete the soil or other resources and which is not dependent on long-range irrigation systems. Really, we want to have several organic meat and agricultural farms nearby, and plentiful forest land available. Also, any area known to have rich soil is definitely a plus since it will allow for increased agriculture in the future (i.e. should the community find itself a haven during hard times).

5) The present attitude can be either progressive or conservative, but we want to be convinced that the people will pull-together in times of hardship. And generally speaking we tend to find this quality in many small communities anyway—another good reason to distrust the viability of cities. All things considered, however, a progressive community is probably going to be a better fit for the following reason:

6) It should have an established "alternative" care and services scene—holistic medicine and health care, dentistry, alternative schooling, alternative energies, building methods, etc. This doesn't mean anything "new age", but most "alternative" sciences and skills do seem to represent the needs and thinking of the coming era. If there is a good traditional hospital in the area, terrific! But we want to know that if supplies, drugs and equipment cannot be maintained that there is still a viable body of knowledge to draw on in addition. Other important "alternatives" to have are alternative energies technicians, home-systems businesses and craftspeople skilled in alternative building methods—because at some point we might not be able to build with modern materials and methods.

7) It should have a diverse age range among the populace. We will want a community which appreciates its children and allows them to flourish. We also want to have old-timer’s around who remember how things got done before there were semi-trucks and power tools and refrigerators and stuff.

8) It should be able to support a strong local economy. So for instance the area should not be a "company town" substantially dependent on one or two companies or industries. Similarly, it shouldn’t be too dependent on one particular resource.

9) It should NOT have any nearby or upstream chemical plants, toxic industrial plants or mines, nuclear reactors, dumping grounds or landfills, superfund sites, military installations, etc. In good times most of these industries treat the fines they receive for their "accidents" as just the cost of doing business…what will they be like when things start to get desperate…? It would be ideal not to have any large factory farms or agribusinesses upstream, either...but that's probably not realistic.

10) It should be located several miles from any main highways. I don't by any means believe the world will turn into "Mad Max" in the coming years, but as a practical rule: if you're doing well while others are struggling, it's best to keep a very low profile. Also, in the near term at least, highway and rail access makes an area more attractive to businesses and developers. And as a side note, when the cities begin to break down we'll certainly see a migration of people out to the countryside, and this might threaten to overwhelm most small communities with attractive assets. But it's also worth noting that most "immigrants" moving to any specific town won't be just aimlessly wandering...they'll very likely be coming because they have relatives there who've invited them in to help them out. So there's going to be no way to insulate from these effects entirely. Hence the need for good soil and resources for growth.

In the above list I didn’t discuss issues related to regional weather conditions because I’ve generally found that those are really only important to people who don’t already live in a particular region. Still, each region’s weather and environmental conditions will have to be understood and evaluated. And what about living near the ocean or on an island off-shore…will global warming raise the sea-levels beyond your front doorstep? I don’t know. But again, I’m only concentrating on issues that are of immediate practical concern and which will get us just the first one or two steps down the road of preparation. Similarly, an areas tax rate will be an important consideration, as well as the relative freedom or restrictiveness of it's local laws and regulations (which will have an effect on building codes, businesses and such). But these aren't necessarily going to be "deal-breakers" as they say if the area has considerable opportunity otherwise.

Also, I suppose it should be helpful to be located near a railway line. Certainly there are plusses to that, but there are minuses as well, and I imagine only time will tell if train travel will have a renewed importance in our future.

And perhaps other criteria or considerations will come to mind later. If so I reserve the right to update this list whenever I wish, and obviously you should too….

In summary, however, I would just stress again that we cannot realistically move in and try to force our ideas about change upon an existing community of people, and any heavy-handed attempts to do so will likely be disastrous. Therefore we would simply aim to make an open effort to initiate whatever people might be interested about our situation (and if we’ve chosen the community well there should be at least a handful). And in this light we can find support in the fact that at some point soon the awareness of peak oil is going to appear in the popular media, and then more and more people will begin looking for information and answers. So for instance, if we've already assembled a group of people from the area who are open to these changes it might then be possible to approach the City Council and secure funds for certain key projects, or to bring in speakers and educators with key talents who can offer workshops or training for the community. There are a myriad small, practical things such a group could begin with and which would have a farther-reaching effect in a small town than in a larger city—and these efforts would help provide an initial example and direction for how the community can begin to work together over the coming years.

The payoff in this respect is that we don’t have to create a brand new community from the ground up the way the ecovillage model does; we’re doing something more akin to renovating an existing community. And while there are still many considerations and obstacles involved in this course of action, I think if we’re meticulous in our identification of a community with the right characteristics then we’ll find most of the pieces we would want will already be in place. So this might actually be the most efficient and realistic solution available to most people.