The Importance of Good Nearby Neighbors and Small Towns

Your neighbors should be a positive value-add part of your retreat survival plans.
Your neighbors should be a positive value-add part of your retreat survival plans.

Conventional wisdom suggests that preppers want to locate a retreat far away from anyone else.  We understand the rationale behind this, but we don’t fully agree.

Sure, we’re the first to say you should keep your distance from larger cities.  That’s absolutely so, and we have written about this before.  But we see individual neighbors – and also the inhabitants of small towns – as being very different to the refugees streaming out of larger cities.  Let’s look at why that is.

The concern that motivates people to keep as far away from anyone and everyone and to go through obsessive and probably ultimately unsuccessful ‘opsec’ charades is of course the understandable fear that WTSHTF anyone and everyone who is less well prepped than you, may decide to come after you and seize your preparations, take over your lands, and dispossess you of all you own.

Now that is definitely a risk with marauding refugees from larger cities.  These people are itinerants.  They have nothing other than the clothes on their back and whatever else they can carry and travel with, and so they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by attacking you opportunistically.  If the attack seems likely to fail, they can simply retreat and run away.  No harm done (to them) and the next day, they will try for better luck with another targeted residence, somewhere else (or possibly even return to surprise you a second time).

They can do this with relative impunity, as often as they wish.  Why?  Because if you give chase after them, they will simply keep running away until you give up and return back to your home.  They know, and soon enough you’ll realize too, that after a day or two or three of giving chase, you are going to give up.

Your retreat community needs you, and if you’ve traveled two days away, you’ll have to take another two or three days to return – you’ve been away for four or five days, and each extra day you continue traveling outbound takes you two days away in total, while exhausting you, your supplies, and increasing your vulnerability to unknown and unexpected events in areas you are less familiar with.

Issues With Neighbors

But what about a fellow property owner, next to, or several lots over from you?  They’ve made a commitment to their land, and to their home.  If they get into a dispute with you and it isn’t amicably resolved, you know exactly where to find them, and if you’re so minded, you can do exactly that, at a time and situation of your choosing so as to ensure the best possible outcome for you (and the worst possible outcome for them).

If you get into a conflict, neither of you will want to abandon everything you’ve worked to create and protect and preserve.  You’ll both fight to the finish, or negotiate a truce or surrender, and all but the most pig-headed of people will realize the best approach is to avoid the conflict in the first place.  You both have too much to lose.

There’s another perspective that applies differently to your neighbors than to itinerants as well.  The itinerant has no chance of surviving on his own.  He either has to somehow – by hook or by crook – get the supplies and shelter he needs, or perish in the process.

But your neighbors with the small holdings adjacent to your own – they are some way to self-sufficiency already (and maybe already there).  Both of you can prosper better, together.  By occasionally working together cooperatively you will get a much better outcome to everything than by competing against each other or by simply ignoring each other, or – worst of all, one of you fighting the other and either forcing him off his land and away or instead losing and being forced off your land and sent away.  The clear reality is that you probably (hopefully!) have nothing to compete about or for, and if you can see potential sources of tension, you shouldn’t locate your retreat at that place to start with.

Possible sources of tension might revolve around water rights or access rights.  If you or they need access of the other’s property, that might be a problem, and of course, if there’s a shared water resource (perhaps a river/stream that flows first through one of your properties and then through the other) then that could be an issue too, and these are things you’d need to clearly understand and resolve before buying the property.  You’d also want to make sure that your potential new neighbors don’t believe they have any non-recorded but customary and traditional rights on your property – perhaps they might assert traditional grazing rights for their cattle, or perhaps there are some unclear disputed boundary lines, or who knows what else.

When choosing your retreat property, you should not just rely on title searches and property deeds, you should speak to all your potential new neighbors to understand how they perceive the property you might be buying and its interaction with their property and rights.

Back now to the future, and to put things another way, hopefully your rural neighbors are already committed to the concept of surviving by honest hard work, and hopefully they’ll see that their work can be easier and more successful with an occasional positive interaction with their neighbors.

There’s probably an example that relates to this in your normal life.  Have you ever noticed how you make close friends with many of the people you work with, but when you or they change jobs, the friendship quickly evaporates?  It was the common ties created by doing the same job, working for the same company, sharing the same experiences, frustrations, and successes, that built a bond between you, and when those ties were broken, there was little remaining except a quickly fading chance to reminisce about former shared experiences.

A similar thing applies, positively, to your relationship with your neighbors.  You might have nothing in common with them socially, politically, or in any other respect.  But you have a huge common tie binding you together – you are both working to survive in what has become a tough and unforgiving world, and will be sharing many of the same challenges due to your proximity to each other.  Most of all, your respective chance of surviving is increased if your neighbor does well (due to the hope that they might share their success if needed).

These outside forces are of course very less apparent in normal times, and so provide much less motivation for people to interact with their neighbors currently.  But WTSHTF, different rules will apply.

If and when this should happen, you and your neighbors need to realize you are stronger together than apart.

Issues With Nearby Towns

This is a slightly trickier situation, and with different possible win and lose outcomes for you and the people residing in the town, not all of which are clearly either win-win or lose-lose.

The situation here depends very much on the size and type of town that you are close to.  If it is a small town where the residents live in houses with yards and have the potential to grow vegetable gardens and maybe keep some chickens and a pig or two, and/or where some of the other townsfolk are essential service providers for the country living people in the area – people such as yourself and your neighbors – then hopefully the small town is viable as a self-sustaining entity in a Level 2 or 3 situation.  We discuss this in some detail in our article ‘Will your nearby town thrive, survive or fail WTSHTF?‘.

It is important you understand which of these categories (thrive, survive or fail) the town is likely to find itself in.  Clearly you want to be close to a town that will add value to your existence by thriving, and equally clearly, you do not want to be close to one that may threaten it by failing.

If the nearby town is likely to be a net value-add rather than a threat, you have another potential win-win situation, the same as with your neighbors.  For the service providers (doctors, dentists, tradesmen, etc) you are a source of business and food for them, while they in turn are a source of services and capabilities you don’t have within your own retreat and its members.  And in addition to being a customer and a seller of food, you might also have services and skills of your own which they need, and maybe you might also provide employment to some townsfolk too.

The key thing is that your town has to be one which is capable of being self-sustaining.  If that is the case, then they see their future the same way your neighbor sees his future – they see that their future is best assured by working together rather than working apart, or by attempting to take things from you.

If the town is not capable of being self-sustaining, then you have problems.  What is to stop the town from using its resources against you?  In whatever form of county government that may remain, there’s a greater voice and support for a town of 100 than a retreat with 5 on it, and the townsfolk might act to annex you to their town and then make you subject to bylaws and regulations designed to seize your assets and share them with the townsfolk.

These types of semi-legal threats are even more worrying than the illegal threats of an armed gang of townsfolk simply attacking you and taking your supplies from you, because you could find yourself confronting not only a small group of villainous townsfolk, but the local law enforcement agencies, augmented by county and state forces too.

We spoke before about the issue of itinerant roaming opportunists.  They can be a problem, but they are itinerant and so are not likely to be a permanent issue (although you may get regular visits, but from different groups/gangs of itinerants).  A nearby town of needy people – that’s a much more serious thing, because it is a more permanent problem.  If the townsfolk have to choose between abandoning their homes and their town and becoming itinerants themselves, or of simply taking everything you have, which do you think they will choose?

That’s not a problem with an easy solution, because they are living close to you.  If they have no other easier nearby targets, they’re not likely to just ignore you.  They will do something and you will find yourself forced to either accede or respond any way necessary to protect your property and your livelihood.

On the other hand, while a bad town, collectively, poses a problem, if the problems are with just some individuals rather than the town as a whole, it can be a benefit to you and a constraint on the individuals and their actions.

Assuming it is a moderately small town, any action that one or two of the town’s residents might engage you in stands to have consequences to them.  Just like with a troublesome neighbor, you know where to find them, and they are vulnerable to whatever type of reprisals you might choose to take.  Perhaps the town even has some basic type of law enforcement, making such errant folks answerable not just to you and whatever ‘natural justice’ the situation allows for, but also to local law enforcement and their type of justice, too.

Mutual Security Issues Apply to Neighbors and Towns, Too

There’s one more thing to consider as well – another reason why you should band together with both your neighbors and your local town.

If a gang of outlaws moves into your area, then today they might attack you, but then tomorrow they might attack your neighbor, and the next day, the next neighbor and so on.  This is also true of small towns – if a gang starts terrorizing the outlying ranchers, how long before they start terrorizing the town dwellers, too?  This isn’t just a hypothetical situation – it is happening with Mexican gangs in parts of Eastern WA already, and that’s in a situation supposedly where the rule of law is intact and supreme.

If the town ends the menace of a gang, you benefit too, and if you end the menace of a gang, the town and your neighbors all benefit also.  So it makes selfish good sense to cooperate – and anything which appeals to a person’s selfishness is much more likely to win their cooperation than something which requires more abstract concepts of honor and justice!

You Might Need to Explain These Issues

What we’ve written might seem intuitive to you, but it might not necessarily be intuitive to your neighbors and to the nearby town.  Don’t assume that they all are thinking the same way you are, and joining the mental dots together in the same pattern.  We’d suggest you discreetly talk about such things with your neighbors, and with people who would be advantaged by cooperating with you in the town as well.

But don’t go at this like a bull in heat.  Be oblique and cautious, because you don’t want to get a reputation as being strange, unusual, and eccentric.

We’d suggest you slowly get to know your neighbors as if by chance, and only after you’ve had some casual conversations with them about the weather, sport, life in general, or whatever else, that you then start to talk about some ‘what if’ scenarios.  If it is clear that they have no concept about such things, or perhaps they are very individualistic and private and not wanting to interact/cooperate with others, then don’t press the point for now – you can always revisit the topic in the future.  But if they do show sympathy and understanding, simply indicate that in any uncertain future you’d prefer to work cooperatively with them for mutual benefit.

You can certainly easily enough explain your shared situation when it comes to shared problems and needs and external threats.  As for the potential of disputes between the two of you, you can say ‘Heck, there’s no way I’d want to start an argument with you because you know where to find me, and I guess (give a polite laugh here to remove the sting of the statement) I guess you don’t really want to start an argument with me either because I know where to find you too!’

As for townsfolk, we’ve written elsewhere about how to integrate into your local community.  You should do this, and as you get to know local merchants and service providers, there will come times when you’ll be relaxing over a meal or drink, and you can ‘think out loud’ about hypothetical future scenarios and how the town and its surrounding population would be well advised to club together if things went bad.  See who agrees with you, and who rejects the idea as fanciful, impossible, irrelevant or inappropriate, and selectively build ties with those who agree with you.


Your future survival depends not just on yourself and the other members of your prepper community retreat.  Like it or not, it also depends on the other people around you, living on neighboring blocks of land, and in the nearby town (or towns).

Your objective is to create not just a neutral ‘live and let live’ arrangement with your neighbors and adjacent town-folk, but rather to set the scene for the quick establishment of a mutual cooperation and support setup if TSHTF.  This will greatly enhance your standard of living, your resilience, and your ability to withstand disastrous events of all kinds.

5 Replies to “The Importance of Good Nearby Neighbors and Small Towns”

  1. Cody

    We moved to Scott County Arkansas after doing what we thought was adequate research.

    The city has 3500 residents, county population is about 10,000. There are 63 churches here and it is a dry county. People are friendly until you move here then you are an outsider.

    Everyone is related to the eighth cousin and the local contractors do not want work from outsiders stating they have enough work from people they know. Schools are rated at a D by the State. Corruption at the city and county governments is rampant. Sheriff’s office protects their informants no matter what laws they break.

    The town is dying, businesses are closing, the city cannot pay their bonds and money seems to be always missing from one account or another. We paid $150k for our property and we would be lucky to get $75k now after living here six years (if we could sell it).

    The advice in the article is very good. Get to know the town, attend meetings, find out what is going on as much as possible before you make a mistake like we did. Mistakes are very costly both in time and money.

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