Are there options?

Thinking of moving? Make sure your first consideration is “are there enough options”.

The safest bet for the future is that it not only won’t be like the past (that’s trite and obvious) but that it will see much of what we’re used to fall apart.

James Howard Kunstler calls it the Long Emergency.

You need to know that where you choose to live can meet your needs on an ongoing basis.

Could it, for instance, do a reasonable job of feeding you locally? (The diet might not be as varied as you’re used to — although a set of pots on a balcony can grow vegetables — but is it close enough?

New York City, for instance, used to feed itself from New Jersey (the Garden State), and Long Island. Today food is a lot farther away from the city, thanks to suburban sprawl.

The flip side of that is transportation.

New York (just to stay with it for a minute) has port facilities galore, an extensive rail network, an extensive public transit system (and as has been shown in Germany running freight shipments on public transit lines between [in their case] LRTs is an available option), and multiple airports to go with its roads. Go upstate to a small town like Granville, and the rail line’s been pulled up, it’s not on the Champlain canal system: road-based transport is it.

Why does this matter? Simply put, because the availability and economics of various fuels may change. The more different types of infrastructure exist, and the shorter the distances involved, the more options the community will have in the future.

Cities will be easier to secure — an officer patrolling a beat on foot could be reinstated — but harder to manage with other things.

Take condos (or strata, as they’re known on the west coast). Everyone owns their unit, and owns the building in common.

What happens when the financial system has a bad burp and mortgages are hard to renew? What if units sit empty (the bank was mailed the keys)? Who’s paying the maintenance fees — and is the maintenance being done?

A non-shared ownership facility may be a better bet (be that a rental or as an ownership situation): one owner, one person responsible for maintenance.

(I remember an unfinished block of apartments on a hill overlooking the Bayview Extension in Toronto. The owner died while it was being built, and the estate was tied up in court battles for twenty years. By the time things were settled and ownership cleared up, it had to be dynamited and the site cleared: twenty years of no one paying to maintain it in its incomplete state had ruined the building. Want to bet that legal battles don’t tie up the owners in units still paying from taking action once the condo corporation has to sue the non-payers? That’s not a bet I’d take … not with the roof over my head.)

My own view is that small cities with mixed means of getting in and out of them might be a better choice than a very large city — or a small town. But a small town where everything’s within walking distance, with rail service and food close, would be better than one without.

In other words, we’ll need to think very differently about “what’s right” than we’ve had to in the past.

I remember pointing out to my wife on a vacation on Vancouver Island how Courtenay-Comox, BC, “fit”. There were working farms of various type within 6 km (close enough, in other words, for a horse and buggy if it ever was required). It had a working harbour with fishing. The E&N railway line was unused, but the rails were still there and service could be reactivated. The local hills meant you could do some run-of-river hydro generation. The air force base provided an airfield if needed. All in all, the right size, and with the right types of pieces, to deal with just about anything (except earthquakes and tsunami, the two natural worries of the south coast of BC).

Take a look around where you are. If all the national and international supply chains collapsed, how might you fare? What could you reactivate locally that may have been there in the past (many walking trails and bike trails are actually old interurban lines — the quick-and-dirty rail systems of a century ago to get around regions).

If nothing else, it will give you some pleasant days seeing where you live with new eyes.


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