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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To beat rising temperatures, Vienna launches a network of 'Cool Streets'

A Vienna resident cools off at one of the city's new Cool Streets installations. (Courtesy Christian Fürthner/Mobilitätsagentur Wien)

Over the past several months, Austria has recorded its highest unemployment rate since World War II, thanks to the economic aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. With no job or a suddenly smaller income – not to mention the continued threat of the virus – many Viennese will opt for a staycation this summer.  

At the same time, last year, Austria’s capital experienced 39 days with temperatures of over 30°C (86°F), one of its hottest summers in history according to the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics.

Climate experts expect a similarly sizzling 2020 season, and city officials are now doubling down on efforts to combat the heat by launching a “Cool Streets” initiative as well as a new, state-of-the-art cooling park.

“As the city councilwoman in charge of climate, it is my job to ensure local cooling,” Vienna’s deputy mayor Birgit Hebein proclaimed at the opening of one of 22 new “Cool Streets” on 22 June.

“In Austria, there are already more heat deaths than traffic fatalities,” she added.

Hebein was referring to the 766 people the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Security included in its 2018 heat-associated mortality statistics. The number was up by 31% compared to 2017, and in contrast to the 409 people who died in traffic collisions the same year.

The project includes 18 temporary Cool Streets located across the city, plus four roads that will be redesigned permanently and designated as “Cool Streets Plus”.

“The Plus version includes the planting of trees. Brighter surfaces, which reflect less heat, replace asphalt in addition to the installation of shadow or water elements,” said Kathrin Ivancsits, spokeswoman for the city-owned bureau Mobilitätsagentur, which is coordinating the project.


Vienna's seasonal Cool Streets provide shady places to rest and are closed to cars. (Petra Loho for CityMetric)

In addition to mobile shade dispensers and seating possibilities amid more greenery provided by potted plants, each street features a steel column offering drinking water and spray cooling. The temporary Cool Streets will also remain car-free until 20 September.

A sensor in the granite base releases drinking water and pushes it through 34 nozzles whenever the outside temperature reaches 25°C (77°F) . As soon as the ambient temperature drops to 23°C (73°F), the sensor, which operates from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., turns off the water supply.

The sensors were included in part to allay concerns about legionella, a pathogenic bacteria that can reproduce in water.  

“When the spray stops, the system drains, and therefore no microbial contamination can develop,” said Dr. Hans-Peter Hutter, deputy head of the Department of Environmental Health at the Center for Public Health at Medical University Vienna, in a televised interview.

Hutter also assured the public that there is no increased risk of a Covid-19 infection from the spray as long as people adhere to the one-meter social distance requirement.


But Samer Bagaeen of the University of Kent's School of Architecture and Planning notes that air cooling systems, like the ones used in Germany at abattoirs, have been found recently to be a risk factor for Covid-19 outbreaks.

“The same could be said for spay devices,” he warned.

Vienna’s district councils selected the 22 Cool Street locations with the help of the city’s Urban Heat Vulnerability Index. The map shows where most people suffer from heat by evaluating temperature data, green and water-related infrastructure, and demographic data.

“Urban heat islands can occur when cities replace the natural land cover with dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat,” as the US Environmental Protection Agency states.


A rendering of Vienna's planned park featuring a Coolspot, which is scheduled to open in August. Click to expand.
(Courtesy Carla Lo Landscape Architecture)

Vienna’s sixth district, Mariahilf, is such an area. The construction of the capital’s first “Cooling Park”, a €1 million project covering the 10,600 square-metre Esterházypark, is designed to provide relief. 

Green4Cities, a centre of excellence for green infrastructure in urban areas, designed the park’s main attraction, the “Coolspot”. The nearly 3.40-metre high steel trellis holds three rings equipped with spray nozzles. Textile shading slats, tensioned with steel cables, cover them.

The effects of evaporation and evapotranspiration create a cooler microclimate around the 30 square-metre seating area, alongside other spray spots selectively scattered across the park.

The high-pressure spray also deposits tiny droplets on plant and tree leaves, which stimulates them to sweat even more. All together, these collective measures help to cool their surroundings by up to six degrees.

The landscape architect Carla Lo and her team planned what she calls the “low-tech” park components. “Plants are an essential design element of the Cooling Park,” Lo says. “By unsealing the [soil], we can add new grass, herbaceous beds, and more climate-resistant trees to the existing cultivation”.

Light-coloured, natural stone punctuated by grass seams replaces the old concrete surfaces, and wooden benches meander throughout the park.

Living near the park and yearning for an urban escape close by, Lo says she’s motivated to ensure the park is completed by mid-August.

“If we don't do anything, Vienna will be another eight degrees Celsius hotter in 2050 than it already is,” Hebein said.

Vienna recently came in first in the World's 10 Greenest Cities Index by the consulting agency Resonance.

“There is no one size fits all on how cities respond to urban heat,” says the University of Kent’s Bagaeen, who points out that Vienna was one of the first European cities to set up an Urban Heat Islands Strategic Plan in 2015.

In the short term, prognoses on the city’s future development may be more difficult: Vienna votes this autumn.

Petra Loho is a journalist and photographer based in Austria.