How post-collapse American cities represent a unique opportunity for Conservatives
The promise of the suburbs that once drew the middle classes from the oppression of the cities has now trapped them in a cycle of debt that most cannot escape. The inexpensive Craftsman houses which built the suburbs three generations ago are long gone. Suburban house prices (if a prospective buyer can even find a house to buy) have increased by an order of magnitude above median wages. According to the National Association of Realtors tracking, the median house price in 2019 was $254,700. By 2023 that number had ballooned to $410,200. As a consequence, mortgage and Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) debt now accounts for over 86% of the average American’s debt.
This debt explosion is not limited to suburbs surrounding major coastal cities. House price growth in smaller cities in the once-affordable West, like Bozeman, Montana and Salt Lake City, Utah, has far outstripped local area wage growth. The median house price is now well over 500% of the median income. Average Americans are fighting a battle for land and for homes in areas they have traditionally dominated, and are losing. There are increasingly fewer places remaining to go.
Aside from cheaper housing, better public schools and security were the largest causes of the middle-class flight from the cities. Today these attractions are closer to fantasy than reality. The increasing liberalization of the suburbs has catalyzed a leftist fanaticism in once stellar public school districts and led to suburban police kneeling before BLM rioters. Middle-class Detroiters fled the riots of 1967 by the tens of thousands and made a new home in the suburbs, but in recent years lawlessness has arrived at their doors once again. The suburbs are no longer the safe haven they once were.
Of course, cities haven’t transformed into a utopia of opportunity, either. Despite the best efforts of the laptop class at gentrification, most American cities are worse now than they were twenty years ago. Criminality is rampant across most major US urban centers, and major retailers have either begun to or have long since pulled out of urban areas. Detroit, a city of over 600,000 people, has precisely one Home Depot, which sits on the fringes of the city. The only major grocery retailer is Whole Foods, which sits in the center of a small, extremely gentrified neighborhood.
But post-collapse cities like Detroit offer something that the suburbs cannot: cheap land. The median house price in muncipal Detroit is $73,000; in the suburb of Grosse Pointe, it is $460,000. While much of the existing housing in Detroit is useless to the current generation of homesteaders, Detroit also has over 100,000 empty housing plots, approximately 15,000 acres which the city offers nearly for free. An aerial view of the Detroit border with Grosse Pointe shows the latter side bursting with houses, and block after block of empty grass-covered plots on the Detroit side. This land is there for the taking.
For centuries, European and later North American cities offered a trade to residents willing to live in them: a floor of security in exchange for a ceiling of advancement. This was a trade that many were willing to make, but not all. Armed with an exceptional spirit of self-reliance and freedom, the outliers hitched wagons, packed themselves on ships, or simply walked in into the unknown, and dragged the West with them. Along the way they faced dangers unimaginable to those they left behind, and they also found something that those who remained behind only dreamt of. They escaped cycles of generational debts and societal limitations, and some even became the very lords they were escaping.
The frontiers offered those who were not born into success something they could never achieve in the crowded cities: the opportunity to grow, to build, and – if they were lucky – thrive. The pioneering spirit that they carried with them made the United States the dominant power in the world. These pioneers overcame a myriad of dangers from disease, starvation, and hostile native populations. Fighting acre by acre, they forged this new land into their homes. While the modern “homestead movement” seeks to emphasize a return to a simpler life, historical homesteaders were the harbingers of Western civilization. From the American West to the South African Kraals, the symbol of circling wagons against the dangers of the frontier is the defining image of this history. New pioneers will need to bring the lessons of the past into the modern day.
The open, unsettled, and often dangerous urban spaces found in some post-collapse cities today offer new opportunities. By securing the land on the fringes of society, new pioneers have a chance to replicate the victories of previous frontiersmen. A return to cities has another advantage over further retreat to the hinterlands: a customer base for high-demand trades. Blue Collar jobs have never been in greater demand in America, and much of that demand is in the very cities that pushed those workers away. Proximity to upscale urban areas and border region development offers blue-collar workers the revenue streams they need to rebuild their own communities.
Like previous generations, new pioneers will have to plant the flag of civilization acre by acre in an inhospitable land. But this time they will be working in territory with significant infrastructure already in place, and access to resources their ancestors couldn’t conceive of. Homeschooling has never been easier and more popular, and access to the internet no longer limits the range of scientific knowledge to one’s proximity to a city. They will need individual bravery, talent, and the ability to work as a group. They will need to help build homes, improve infrastructure, secure one another, and educate each other’s children. They will need to rely on their neighbors as much as their ancestors. Despite the drumbeats of doom, conditions are conducive to victory.
In his article titled “A Time to Dig Trenches”, South African writer van Zyl argues that “the time has come for Western communities to stop running and start digging trenches.” This is great advice. But what of those places the Left has already moved from? The current state of collapsing or post-collapsed American cities is offering us an opportunity not seen in generations: to do more than simply hold on or to survive. It offers us the chance to be the pioneers of old in a new urban frontier and to push back against the collapse of our civilization.
The time has come for a pioneer reconquista.