Cities will kill us all!
WIll Smith in "I Am Legend" (Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)
In case you hadn’t heard, cities these days are all the rage. While once upon a time the rich fled urban centers and their accompanying crowding, pollution and grime, according to Leigh Gallagher’s upcoming account in “The End of the Suburbs,” “cities are experiencing a renaissance.” According to Henry Grabar, a city is a “harbor of tolerance and assimilation, a hub of scientific innovation and economy growth, a tourist attraction, a center for the arts, a ticket to upward mobility, a key to saving the environment.” With urban agriculture on the rise, we can even grow our own food. Thanks to technology, city dwellers can give away their leftovers or get laid with nothing more than a digital photo and a swipe of a finger.
But there’s one little problem that the powers that be conveniently ignore when talking up the benefits of a metropolitan life. Cities are going to be the worst place to ride out the end of the world. Whatever the underlying cause of our doom, urban centers, with their dense populations, high crime and corruption rates, lack of natural resources, and proximity to water, are going to fall first.
As any good prepper – or conspiracy theorist – knows, there are a number of potential triggers to the end of the world as we know it. Considering human history, not to mention the current state of the world, the possibility of a World War III doesn’t sound so outlandish. Climate change models are getting increasingly pessimistic – and panicked – trying ever harder to warn us that the end is nigh. But my money is on contagious disease, though I don’t rule out zombies, an alien attack or some good old-fashioned Bible-style fire and brimstone. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter what causes the apocalypse. What matters is whether you survive it. And if you’re in a city, chances are, you won’t.
But apocalypse-level war and climate change would most likely take years to unfold, giving humankind the chance, hopefully, to learn some lessons and put some safeguards in place before all is lost. Contagious disease, on the other hand, might not give us that opportunity. The population density of a city makes it the perfect petri dish for a viral, bacterial or zombie pandemic on a scale that could significantly cut the ranks of people left on the planet. It was a swine flu variant that decimated the world’s population in “Contagion,” a “genetically engineered viral cataclysm” that wiped out all but one member of the human race in Margaret Atwood’s “Oryx and Crake,” and let’s not forget the estimated 75 million to 200 million people killed by the medieval Black Death. Zombie-ism and its ilk fall in the communicable disease category too, and with such a short incubation period and people living in such close proximity, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that cities will become hives of infestation.
Black Blade: Highly concentrated densely populated "monkey hives" (a.k.a. cities) are likely to be the first places contagion will strike and spread like wildfire. The safest place is deep in the bush (rural lands) whereone could hunker down without interacting with many people - some of whom could be infected. Then just wait out the the contagion. During the Medieval Period the Black Plague raged throughout Asia and Europe and yet the Royals and Nobles tended to fare better than most as they fled the cities and took up residence in their country estates until the pandemic subsided.