Where’s the best British city to survive the apocalypse?

Oh, yay. Image: Getty.

Times are tough in the world of international relations. Kim Jong-un rubs his hands and markets tremble as President Trump’s diminutive digits hover, wotsit like, over the nuclear button.

Citymetric has already explored how nuclear bombardment could affect Earth’s major cities and those most likely to witness nuclear war. But where is the best place to be in the event of annihilation? Not merely when the bombs are dropping – but in the dreadful aftermath as politics collapses, agriculture withers and society disintegrates.

Picture the scene. Perhaps North Korea has decided to use the UK as a test case. Perhaps Donald Trump has a particularly acrimonious falling out with Sadiq Khan and unleashes hell. Whatever the reason, armageddon has arrived and Britain is the theatre.

Ostensibly, all hope is lost. But keep this handy guide in your bookmarks folder in the event of calamity. It might just give you the edge when the end times ensue.

Detonation

The discerning househunter knows that swerving catastrophe comes at a price. Once a bonus, a home combining cost efficiency and minimal likelihood of evisceration is now a necessity.

eMoov’s map of home buying options outside nuclear impact zones offers some handy insights. Unfortunately, nearly everywhere south of Scotland is out of action by their reckoning. Exeter and Truro escape the Plymouth radiation zone on a good day. Carlisle and Lancaster deserve honourable mentions, but are uncomfortably close to Newcastle and Manchester’s respective obliterations.

The really savvy apocalypse avoiders should get out of England entirely and head to Inverness. It’s cheap, has a lovely castle and even a prison for locking up the inevitable looters. If there is a better place to be as the missiles are dropping, I can’t think of it.

Detonation + 1 hour

But what if a missile goes astray? In the immediate moments following meltdown, nowhere is truly safe – an action plan is required.

WMDs carry with them the risk of radiation poisoning. But experts say it’s better to risk a little exposure while finding sanctuary than remain somewhere flimsy for the long haul.

Nuclear shelters, both mothballed and functioning, are dotted around the country. Although reserved for use by military personnel, let us assume that, if cities were being burned off the map, this conventionally miserly bunch would extend the hand of hospitality to the rest of us.

The main contenders are Bath and London. The latter is an obvious one – with bunkers available in the centre (such as the Pindar military citadel beneath Whitehall) as well as more peripheral areas (see Horsham’s Central Government War Headquarters), there are refuge opportunities aplenty.

The former is a bit riskier, but swashbuckling survivors are well rewarded. Civil Defence Today lists Basil Hill Barracks and the “infamous Corsham Computer Centre” as viable options. It’s also home to the now defunct Burlington Bunker (very much the Rolls Royce of wartime getaways in its day).

York’s Cold War Bunker has been out of action for some time but may still work in a pinch, as would Birmingham and Manchester’s telephone exchanges. But Bath and London’s combination of quality and quantity make them ideal destinations for dusting off the radiation and hunkering down for the collapse of civilisation.

Detonation +1 week

Congratulations! You have survived for a whole week.

But you aren’t out of the woods yet. Perhaps you’ve run out of socks, or need a shower, or have already eaten your granny and are on the prowl for something meatier. It’s not ideal, but if a mad dash for supplies is the only option then you need to know where to go.

London’s density of supermarkets makes it a strong choice – but its dense population means a higher attendant likelihood of violence breaking out. The apocalypse, I imagine, will be stressful enough without having to fight over a sausage roll with famished irradiated Cockneys.

You might more profitably consider Edinburgh: it has the highest number of Sainsbury’s and Tesco local stores per capita of any city in Britain, according to the Scottish Green party. Retail consultant CACI also touts Canterbury as one of the UK’s most over-serviced supermarket cities, with over 1m square feet of supermarket space in the Canterbury postcode alone.

So where are the main contenders at this early stage? Nowhere is perfect. Peripheral cities are unlikely targets but ill-equipped to deal with a possible onslaught. Core cities are often built with annihilation in mind precisely because their inhabitants are at the greatest immediate risk.

The real test comes when the dust settles and people emerge from their bunkers to rebuild society – or contend with its collapse.


Detonation +1 year

Now we’re firmly in the realm of science fiction, there are multiple schools of thought on what to do and where to go when you’re one of the few hardy remnants of humanity.

Perhaps you should get as far away from the main disaster zones as possible. Assuming the UK’s most populous cities are the top candidates for dissolving into widespread looting and pillaging, the appeal of somewhere like Inverness is enhanced significantly.

Or maybe the opposite is more plausible. Concerted efforts to restore order are more likely to get going in the nation’s capital before anywhere else.

One compromise I came up with was to head for somewhere reasonably agricultural and therefore self-sustaining. London, Bath and Edinburgh, home to some of the country’s biggest urban farms, all boost their cases in this respect. But, with nuclear winter setting in, a more radical solution is required. Tinned goods are the way to go.

Wigan is home to Heinz’s biggest UK factory, producing over 1bn tins a year. However, equidistant from targets Manchester and Liverpool, it’s likely to be a Mecca for hungry hangers-on.

Consider instead their Worcester plant: although smaller, you could trek there after sheltering for a while in Bath and enjoy a delicious post-apocalyptic minestrone and baked bean banquet until the chaos blows over.

The verdict

As Donald Trump flits between scandals faster than he does communications directors, catastrophe is off the cards for now. But with megalomaniacs in charge of the world’s WMD arsenals, scares will surely become more frequent.

My view is there’s a lot to be said for moving around a bit come Doomsday. If you start off in Bath you’re unlikely to be instantly eviscerated, then can progress to one of the city’s fabulous bunkers pending further developments. If nothing changes after a few months, the provision preservation paradise of Worcester is a relatively short trip away. It’s a strategy that requires going off the beaten track and taking some risks with radiation, but strikes quite a good balance between immediate and long run survival.

Overall there are really no winners in an apocalypse situation. One thing I am convinced of is that city-dwellers are the biggest losers of all. If you really want to watch the calamity unfold from a safe distance, you’re better off evacuating the mainland entirely.

What about seeking asylum in Sealand or Sark? Some say the UK’s extant feudal enclaves don’t have much going for them in times of geopolitical stability – but think how urban and politically innovative they will seem when nuclear war has reduced Parliament to dust and capitalism to a memory.

Following Armageddon, the security of serfdom may be a blessing. The choice between peasantry on an island and a bunker in Bath is a tricky one, but soon it will face us all.

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What’s up with Wakanda’s trains? On public transport in Black Panther

The Black Panther promotional poster. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Black Panther is one of the best reviewed superhero films of all time. It’s instantly become a cultural touchstone for black representation in movies, while shining a positive light on a continent almost totally ignored by Hollywood. But never mind all that – what about the trains?

The film takes place in the fictional African country of Wakanda, a small, technologically advanced nation whose power comes from its main natural resource: huge supplies of a magical metal called vibranium. As is often the case in sci-fi, “technologically advanced” here means “full of skyscrapers and trains”. In other words, perfect Citymetric territory.

Here’s a mostly spoiler-free guide to Black Panther’s urbanism and transport.

City planning

It’s to the credit of Black Panther’s crew that there’s anything to talk about here at all. Fictional cities in previous Marvel films, such as Asgard from the Thor films or Xandar from Guardians of the Galaxy, don’t feel like real places at all, but collections of random monuments joined together by unwalkably-wide and sterile open spaces.

Wakanda’s capital, the Golden City, seems to have distinct districts and suburbs with a variety of traditional and modern styles, arranged roughly how you’d expect a capital to be – skyscrapers in the centre, high-rise apartments around it, and what look like industrial buildings on its waterfront. In other words, it’s a believable city.

It’s almost a real city. Image: Marvel/Disney

We only really see one area close-up: Steptown, which according to designer Ruth Carter is the city’s hipster district. How the Golden City ended up with a bohemian area is never explained. In many cities, these formed where immigrants, artists and students arrived to take advantage of lower rents, but this seems unlikely with Wakanda’s stable economy and zero migration. Did the Golden City gentrify?

Urban transport

When we get out and about, things get a bit weirder. The narrow pedestrianised sand-paved street is crowded and lined with market stalls on both sides, yet a futuristic tram runs right down the middle. The tram’s resemblance to the chunky San Francisco BART trains is not a coincidence – director Ryan Coogler is from Oakland.

Steptown Streetcar, with a hyperloop train passing overhead. Image: Marvel/Disney.

People have to dodge around the tram, and the street is far too narrow for a second tram to pass the other way. This could be a single-track shuttle (like the former Southport Pier Tram), a one-way loop (like the Detroit People Mover) or a diversion through narrow streets (like the Dublin Luas Cross City extension). But no matter what, it’s a slow and inefficient way to get people around a major city. Hopefully there’s an underground station lurking somewhere out of shot.


Over the street runs a *shudder* hyperloop. If you’re concerned that Elon Musk’s scheme has made its way to Wakanda, don’t worry – this train bears no resemblance to Musk’s design. Rather, it’s a flying train that levitates between hoops in the open air. It travels very fast – too fast for urban transport, since it crosses a whole neighbourhood in a couple of seconds – and it doesn’t seem to have many stops, even at logical interchange points where the lines cross. Its main purpose is probably to bring people from outlying suburbs into the centre quickly.

There’s one other urban transport system seen in the film: as befitting a major riverside city, it has a ferry or waterbus system. We get a good look at the barges carrying tribal leaders to the ceremonial waterfalls, but overhead shots show other boats on the more mundane business of shuttling people up and down the river.

Transport outside the city

Unfortunately there’s less to say here. Away from the city, we only see people riding horses, following cattle-drawn sleds, or simply walking long distances. This is understandable given Wakanda’s masquerading as a developing country, but it makes the country very urban centric. Perhaps that’s why the Jabari hate the other tribes so much – poor transport investment means the only way to reach them is a narrow, winding mountain pass.

The one exception is in freight transport. Wakanda has a ridiculously developed maglev network for transporting vibranium ore. This actually follows a pattern seen in a lot of real African countries: take a look at a map of the continent and you’ll see most railways run to the coast.

Image: Bucksy/Wikimedia Commons.

These are primarily freight railways built to transport resources from mines and plantations to ports, with passenger transport an afterthought.

A high-speed maglev seems like overkill for carrying ore, especially as the film goes out of its way to point out that vibranium is too unstable to take on high-speed trains without careful safety precautions. Nevertheless, the scene where Shuri and Ross geek out about these maglevs might just be the single most relatable in any Marvel movie.

A very extravagant freight line. Image: Marvel/Disney.

Perhaps this all makes sense though. Wakanda is still an absolute monarchy, and without democratic input its king is naturally going to choose exciting hyperloop and maglev projects over boring local and regional transport links.

Here’s hoping the next Black Panther film sees T’Challa reforming Wakanda’s government, and then getting really stuck into double-track improvements to the Steptown Streetcar.

Stephen Jorgenson-Murray tweets as @stejormur.

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