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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AMC's "The Walking Dead" is back on Monday, if you like zombies.

 
 
 
 

Coming soon: CityMetric will relaunch as City Monitor, a new publication dedicated to the future of cities

Coming soon!

Later this month, CityMetric will be relaunching with an entirely new look and identity, as well as an expanded editorial mission. We’ll become City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications coming soon from New Statesman Media Group. We can’t wait to share the new website with you, but in the meantime, here’s what CityMetric readers should know about what to expect from this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is going to be a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission will be to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we’ll cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing, and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications this fall, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

City Monitor will go live later this month. In the meantime, please visit citymonitor.ai to sign up for our forthcoming email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our forthcoming digs. You can already follow City Monitor on LinkedIn, and on Twitter, sign up or keep following our existing account, which will switch over to our new name shortly. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

In the meantime, stay tuned, and thank you from all of us for being a loyal CityMetric reader. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.