Which cities would be most likely to survive a zombie apocalypse?

The undead take part in a traditional Zombie Walk in Stockholm, in August 2014. Image: Getty.

The received wisdom is that, once the dead rise and walk the earth, city dwellers won’t stand a chance. We’re too self-obsessed to notice the bloody handprints on our neighbour’s door. Polluted drinking water, feral lap dogs, roving gangs: it’ll all conspire against us, and we’ll be zombie fodder within a couple of hours.

Rather than stay in our death-trap cities, the default advice for urbanites is to retreat to a perfectly stocked and secluded rural retreat. But what if I don’t want to leave my cosy apartment and collection of carefully neglected houseplants, only to die of exposure in a hedge? Is staying in the city really Darwin Award-worthy or could it actually improve our chances of survival?

The question of whether city-dwellers stand a chance in a zombie strewn world was tackled in October 2015 by CareerBuilder and labour data source EMSI. Their researchers developed the Zombie Apocalypse Index (ZAI), which looks at which US cities would survive a zombie outbreak.

The ZAI works on the assumption that every US citizen is either a member of the armed forces or owns multiple guns. But for those of us who don’t have a sawn-off shotgun stashed in the biscuit tin, a different set of criteria will determine our survival. Population density, housing, government funding, crime rates, geographical location and cycling infrastructure (bear with me) will all play a role in determining which UK cities survive a zombie outbreak.


Potential for total isolation

During the first wave of an outbreak, when zombies and future zombies are clogging up the local infrastructure, the city-dweller’s best chance of surviving is to behave like they’ve got a terrible hangover.

Those weekends when you don’t leave your apartment and start talking to the plug sockets and wondering if the entire outside world is Schrodingers Cat? That’s your life now.

Once you’ve stacked your cupboards with baked beans and topped up the Netflix account, survival is possible for the most entrenched city-dweller. For a while at least. Assuming Deliveroo doesn’t survive the apocalypse, at some point you’re going to have to forage for food, and this is where total isolation starts working against cities.

Those closest to natural sources of food (the coast, rivers, forests, the yogurt sample cart outside King's Cross station) will be fine. Ish. City-dwellers living more than a day's travel from the wild will probably have to move apartments – a stressful enough activity when the undead aren’t attempting to crack open your skull – or start developing a taste for pigeon.

Population density

A city’s survival rate can usually be tied to its population: the more people living there today, the more undead walking the streets tomorrow.

Working out the largest UK city is surprisingly difficult, but if we’re going by the number of future brain munchers currently in residence, London comes out top with 8.5m. Meanwhile Preston, Oxford, Peterborough, York and Portsmouth all look like safe bets, with populations comfortably below 200,000.

The zombies take Sydney. Image: Getty.

Survival isn’t just how low or spread out your population is, however – and those of us living in densely populated cities still have a chance. Highly populated cities tend to have more apartment blocks and apartments are easier to defend than houses (more people, more food, staircases, etc). It’s also harder for people outside the building to steal your supplies.

And speaking of crime...

Budget cuts

In The Zombie Survival Guide, zombie-handler Max Brooks points out that:

“Buildings in poorer, inner-city neighbourhoods tend to be more secure than others. Their reliance on high fences, razor wire, barred windows, and other anti-crime features make them readily defensible. Buildings in middle– or high-income areas tend to emphasize aesthetics... if the situation permits; head away from the suburbs and toward the inner city.”

George Osborne’s decision to remove the central government grant in April 2016 will leave local councils facing a £18bn cut in funding. In response many cities are talking about closing libraries, museums, parks and community centres.

What critics are failing to appreciate, however, is that these neglected facilities will be perfectly placed to take advantage of a zombie apocalypse. Bare bones investment in public buildings now will lead to impenetrable fortresses on Z-Day.

Health care

Aside from population and (lack of) government funding, health care plays the biggest role in deciding a city’s survival rate. Hospitals were an important part of the ZAI, with Boston topping the league thanks to its “cure zone”. As the US city that has received the highest rate of medical funding, Boston has the best chance of containing and eventually curing an outbreak.

Some zombies on a water bus in Venice. No, really. Image: Getty.

Unfortunately, due to a dramatic lack of investment in UK hospitals, the ZAI is unlikely to work for us. In fact, Brooks cites medical staff as the reason most zombie-outbreaks spread so quickly. They’re overworked, vulnerable to infection and surrounded by reanimating bodies.

Bearing this in mind, hospitals and health centres are a delicate balancing act. You want enough of them to loot once the first zombie wave is over, but not enough that you’ll be fenced in by the undead. Basically, if Jeremy Hunt has closed half your city’s hospitals but kept the other half open with a skeleton (ho ho ho) staffs, you’re sitting pretty.

Cycling infrastructure

If I’ve learnt one thing from years lurking on survival forums (other than the fact that it is possible to drink you own urine three times before it loses all nutritional value) it’s that cycling is my default mode of post-apocalypse transport. A bike is the only vehicle that it’s possible for humans to carry around obstacles (unless you want to be the person using a Segway to run away from zombies). They also help maintain fitness, require no fuel, make very little noise and are easy to repair.

Post-zombfest car drivers (still) aren’t going to be paying attention to cycle lane markings, but living in a city with cycling infrastructure will help survivors. Cities with cycling schemes are effectively gifting survivors with multiple cycling options, and studies show that good cycling infrastructure encourages citizens to buy their own bikes.


All that means more bikes to be looted once the cycling scheme runs out. Game on.

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Treating towns as bastions of Brexit ignores the reasons for the referendum result – and how to address them

Newcastle: not all cities are booming. Image: Getty.

The EU Referendum result has often been characterised as a revolt of Britain’s “left-behind” towns and rural areas against the “metropolitan elite”. But this view diverts attention from the underlying issues which drove the Brexit vote – and ironically has diverted policy attention away from addressing them too.

It’s true that a number of big urban authorities, led by London, voted to stay. And overall people living in cities were less likely to vote leave than towns. Setting aside Scottish cities and towns, which both voted very strongly for remain, Leave polled 51 per cent of the vote in English and Welsh cities, compared to 56 per cent in local authorities that include towns. (Consistent data isn’t available below local authority level.)

Yet there is a lot of variation underlying this average across towns. In Boston, 75 per cent voted Leave, and in Hartlepool and Grimsby it was 70 per cent. But at the other end of the scale, there were a number of towns that voted to stay. For example, Leave polled at 49 per cent in Horsham and Harrogate, and 46 per cent in Windsor and Hitchin. In places such as Winchester, Leamington Spa and Bath, the Leave voted amounted to less than 42 per cent of the vote.

What drives this variation across towns? Data from the Centre for Cities’ recent report Talk of the Town shows economic outcomes were the biggest factor – with towns that voted Remain also having stronger economies.

For a start, pro-Remain towns generally have smaller shares of people who were either unemployed or claiming long-term benefit. (This is based on 2011 data, the latest available.)

Towns which voted Remain also had a higher share of jobs in high-skilled exporting businesses – an indication of how successful they have been at attracting and retaining high-paid job opportunities.

And both measures will have been influenced by the skills of the residents in each town: the higher the share of residents with a degree, the stronger the Remain vote.

So the Brexit vote was reflective of the varying economic outcomes for people in different parts of the country. Places which have responded well to changes in the national economy voted to Remain in the EU, and those that have been ‘left behind’ – be they towns or cities – were more likely to have voted to Leave.

This sends a clear message to politicians about the need to improve the economic outcomes of the people that live in these towns and cities. But the irony is that the fallout from the Brexit has left no room for domestic policy, and little progress has been made on addressing the problem that, in part, is likely to have been responsible for the referendum outcome in the first place.

Indeed, politicians of all stripes have seemed more concerned about jostling for position within their parties, than setting out ideas for domestic policy agenda. Most worryingly, progress on devolution – a crucial way of giving areas a greater political voice – has stalled.


There was talk earlier this year of Theresa May relaunching her premiership next summer focusing on domestic policy. One of her biggest concerns should be that so many cities perform below the national average on a range of measures, and so do not make the contribution that they should to the national economy.

But addressing this problem wouldn’t ignore towns – quite the opposite. What Talk of the Town shows is that the underperformance of a number of cities is bad not just for their residents or the national economy, but also for the residents in surrounding towns too. A poorly performing neighbouring city limits both the job opportunities open to its residents and impacts on nearby towns’ ability to attract-in business investment and create higher paid jobs.

This isn’t the only factor – as the last chart above suggests, addressing poor skills should be central to any serious domestic policy agenda. But place has an influence on economic outcomes for people too, and policy needs recognise that different places play different roles. It also needs to reflect the importance of the relationships between places to improve the access that people across the country have to job opportunities and higher wages.

The Brexit vote didn’t result from a split between cities and towns. And if we are to address the reasons for it, we need to better understand the relationship between them, rather than seeing them as opposing entities.

Paul Swinney is head of policy & research at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this article first appeared.

Read the Centre’s Talk of the Town report to find out more about the relationship between cities and towns, and what this means for policy.