Finding Home Part 4: Human Environment



Locating your next home would not be complete if we did not look at the human environment. But, of course, I am talking about human-created systems that will impact your life. These topics include crime, pollution (noise, smell, sight), nuclear power plants, prisons, etc.


Trigger Warning: In part 4, as is the case for all the finding home series articles, I am sharing what I am looking for when trying to find our next property. Some of these topics may not be important to you, but they are essential to me. In building resilience, it’s imperative to know as much as you can before you buy a farm or homestead. Understand that your needs and concerns will differ from mine, so try to use this post as a jumping-off point in exploring potential problems that will impact your future home. This is not a comprehensive analysis of the topics discussed. Instead, they are general overviews exploring the reasoning behind my deciding factors in what I find positive or negative attributes in a property.


To begin, I want to discuss crime. This is not a really sexy topic, but it is crucial to the long-term sustainability of your existence. The data below was compiled from 2020 crime statistics from the state of Virginia. I am interested in finding a future home site in this state due to the suitable climate, ample precipitation, lower population density, large number of farms, and navigable water sources like the New River, Shenandoah, Potomac, and the James. I believe Virginia is a decent place to put down roots in a future of less. If climate change continues in the direction of warming, this state will be even more ideal for making a living (as long as you are not near the coast). Speaking of Virginia’s coast, I excluded certain high-risk areas from my data. Please view the corresponding map below. You will notice that I left out counties near or bordering the Chesapeake Bay, DC metro area (a.k.a northern Virginia) and those counties adjacent to Richmond.

I am not searching near the coast due to sea-level rise and the threat of annual hurricanes. Northern Virginia bordering DC and Alexandrea is ignored due to the ridiculous urban sprawl, corrupt government organizations, high population density, and glaring military targets. Likewise, the Richmond metro area was also dismissed for the same reasons. I want to be as reasonably far from these threats as possible. Your mileage may vary in what concerns you. Let’s get into it.


Crime:


Methodology: We used "Group A crimes per 100k" as a percentage of the total population for the counties listed. Using the 2020 Virginia State Police Crime Report data we put the selected counties into an Excel spreadsheet to create the bar chart below. The statisticians employed by Virginia State Police use per 100K in order to compare the counties equally across the board.


Before I started compiling this data with the help of Christopher Michael, I went into this expecting crime rates to correspond to higher populations, high poverty, and low education areas. This was not the case which really shocked me. The data showed lower populated counties had the highest crime rates. Highland county, located on the Virginia-West Virginia border, had the highest crime rate per 100,000 people.



At the time of this post, we have not been able to pinpoint the exact reasons for the high crime in low-populated counties, but we have some theories. Our best guess is that it has something to do with low-class people living in the same place their entire lives without any drive to improve themselves. The stagnation of intellect, culture, and “fresh faces” culminate in high crime rates in these areas. The best, brightest, and most willing to improve their lives often leave their small communities searching for better places to live and grow. After a few decades of this exodus, you are left with the lowest quality people making up the population. Of course, this is not everywhere nor everyone in small communities, but it is a factor to consider. This is our best, educated guess, and we are happy to change our thinking as soon as more data becomes available. Of course, highly populated city areas will have increased crime, but we are looking at the county data to emphasize areas where the more sustainable living could occur.



1. Tungsten should educate his/herself on what group A crimes encompass. I am not holding their hand through this process. What data supports their “truth?” about smaller towns reporting more crime? Their unsupported claim that “bigger cities are overwhelmed by more serious crime” is inaccurate. If they took the time to read this article, they would have seen that we did not look into the larger populated cities as these are irrelevant to this post.


2. “The per capita crime rate means little in a sparsely populated area." Tungsten does not understand statistics at all. If you were to compare the counties listed by total crime alone, your statistics and graphs would be skewed. For example, if you have a county that only has a population of 1000 people and you compare the total crime in that county to a county that has a population of 30,000 people, of course, the higher populated county will have a higher total number of crimes. We used “crime rates per 100K” to find the true crime rate per county. There are other methods to get your results but this is what we used per the statisticians employed by the Virginia state police. Their last statement is irrelevant and a straw-man argument. Once again, if they read the article, I did not compare large cities at all but only counties in the areas mentioned.

From personal experience living in Appalachia, I have found residents who have been born and raised in the same area for generations to be substantially more rude, standoffish, and gruff than those who are transplants. Highland, for instance, only has a population of roughly 2,000 people. In such a small, geographically isolated community, the reality is that these folks lived in this microcosm for generations, intermarrying, and apparently creating a culture of crime against one another. This is very surprising to discover. I believe small towns will be important in a future of less, but not all of them. According to the crime data in Virginia, Highland is not a county one should move to or its small towns. Forum members on Citydata shed some light on small mountain communities such as Highland below.

I also want to mention that crime in these dangerous counties is substantially higher than reported. Highland county encompasses 416 square miles of mountain terrain with a police force of 11 officers. I find it reasonable to assume there is a lot of crime that goes unreported. For instance, my 70-year-old drug dealer neighbor runs a drug delivery service, think Door Dash but for meth, where he leaves his house upwards of 13 times a day (during daylight hours) and potentially much more at night. Every time this scumbag leaves his home, he breaks the law by transporting and selling drugs (hydrocodone, meth, and fentanyl). He is breaking the law further by driving an unregistered vehicle, driving without a license, and frequently drinking while driving. Yet, according to the state arrest reports, he has only been caught 3 times since 2008 dealing drugs. So here is a man who is committing hundreds of crimes per year that is never caught in the act and therefore never reported. This is why I say that low-populated areas can potentially have absurdly high unreported crime rates than what is officially published.


As the Long Emergency continues, people’s living standards continue to plummet, crime will continue to increase exponentially. Avoiding low-populated counties will not eliminate the chances of a crime committed against you, but it may provide a beneficial buffer (breathing space) for you to build up your property in anticipation of higher crime in the future. If these counties have high crime now when most of the system is still “relatively” intact, how much more will they devolve into utter depravity when a major crisis erupts?


A crucial middle ground must be looked at when searching for a new home. The crime data suggests that mid-sized counties are a safer alternative to Virginia's low-populated high-crime ones. That is why it is essential to do your due diligence in finding the right place to call home. Yes, some lower populated areas may be a good fit, but caution should be used if you are in Virginia based on the crime data.


Nuclear Power Plants:


Photo courtesy of NRC.gov

Nuclear power plants bother me. So much so that I have decided to avoid any locations downwind from them or some states entirely due to those places having large numbers of nuclear power plants—South Carolina comes to mind. Your mileage may vary when living around one, so skip this section if it's not a concern for you. However, in my opinion, the potential for incompetent people to mismanage these power stations is high. The past few years have shown me that more incompetent people exist than level-headed ones. In my opinion, the average American is incapable of doing the right thing even in the good times, so as the socioeconomic structures of American life unravel, they will abandon any perceived responsibility to properly shut down power stations. Even if a power plant is safely shut down, what will be done with all the radioactive waste stored on-site?

Many of these power plants are located on river systems, potentially leading to radioactive contamination downstream for millennia. These problems quickly turn into predicaments, in my opinion. Unlike problems, predicaments cannot be fixed; one can only adapt to them. A nuclear bomb exploding in a city is a problem. One can take steps to remove themselves from the damaging effects of the fallout, drink purified water, and avoid eating contaminated foods. After a few weeks, natural deterioration dramatically reduces or even eliminates radiation. A nuclear meltdown, however, is a multi-generational catastrophe that will never go away. Your only chance at a healthy life is completely removing yourself from the contaminated zones.

Southeast nuclear power plants with 50 mile radius in yellow

I am not willing to take a chance on this, especially in a nation that is on the decline. Major disasters such as this are not going to be adequately dealt with by our managers. I looked up operating nuclear power plants in the US. —you can see that North and South Carolina are totally infested with them. Then in the upper midwest, and sporadically throughout the deep south. When I look for potential locations to move to, I check out the prevailing wind patterns around nuclear plants. I place a 50-mile exclusion zone around each plant. Anything outside of 100 miles downwind is probably safe, but that is up to the individual and what they are comfortable with in case of a meltdown. Here is an interesting article about Chornobyl's past and the exclusion. For further reading, check out the NRC nuclear waste page for a comprehensive look into high-level waste disposal. NUKEMAP is a fun online tool that enables you to see what would happen if a particular city or area were to have a nuclear explosion.


Electric lines:


When I lived in Maryland, our local grocery store had high-voltage lines running over it. Whenever I walked across the parking lot, I could hear the buzzing emanating from them. I wonder how healthy it is to live near these lines. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what you want to put up with. From an aesthetic point of view, living next to the power line right of ways is not very appealing, in my opinion.

Photo courtesy of brightsandz.co

Personally, I skip properties that have them running through or bordering them. I do not like the idea of power companies having the right of way onto your property or the idea that you cannot utilize this land due to planting restrictions. Then, they make an easy offroad trail right through places that trespassers can traverse. Living in the medieval states of America, how many of these lines will go neglected? In California, ignored power lines have been a source of devastating wildfires. The combination of potential health impacts, limited use under and around them, trespassing, and unsightly views make this unappealing for me. The potential resale value of your home can be impacted by electric lines as well. Here is a great article exploring the potential problems that may arise from living close to these structures.


Gas pipelines:

Virginia nat gas pipeline explosion
Photo courtesy of Roanoke.com

In many respects, gas pipelines have similar problems as electric lines; only gas lines can explode as shown in the picture above. Although this is not a daily occurrence (thankfully), I find life stressful enough on its own to then have the potential of a pipeline on or near my property malfunctioning and blowing us to smithereens. In Virginia, two natural gas pipelines were in the works: the Atlantic Coastal Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Currently, the Atlantic Coastal Pipeline project has been scuttled thanks to concerned Virginians putting up a fight to stop corporate domination.

Photo courtesy of Appvoices.org

Friends of ours owned a property that bordered a Columbia gas pipeline. When they tried to have selective logging on their property, the driveway that crossed the gas line had to have additional gravel put over it to not damage the pipe, which added extra cost. In addition, the open space above the gas line created an excellent access route for trespassers during hunting season and off-road vehicle access throughout the year. Their trail cameras constantly captured trespassers using the gas pipeline to access their property.


Pollution:


Pollution is a significant problem and one that is not easily mitigated. There are many forms of pollution, not just chemicals in the air. Highway noise can bring down your quality of life listening to road ragers, j-breaking tractor-trailers, and the constant roar of traffic. When you just want to hear the sounds of nature and relax, cars zipping by can get pretty annoying.

Airports are another source of unwanted noise. The rattling blast of jet engines can put your teeth on edge. Military bases with constant traffic, both vehicle and airplane, will wear you down quickly too. Railroad traffic may not be continuous, but the horns can be loud while they pass through. To me, trains would be the least problematic of all the potential sources of noise pollution. The jury is still out if trains will take a leading role in the deindustrializing future, but the potential is there at least. Perhaps living near a railroad track will be a positive in the future?


Light pollution can impact your sleep cycle and be an overall drain on your life. Of course, not being able to see stars, planets, and the galaxy at night is not necessarily detrimental to your health, but, this can still detract from your quality of life. Thankfully, many people moving out of heavily populated centers will get to enjoy these natural wonders, but it is something to consider if you are looking for a place near heavy light pollution. Here is a great map that shows the areas in Virginia where star gazing is the most possible. The darker the color the less light pollution there is.

Light pollution map of MD, VA, and WV
Photo couresy of NOVAC.com

Soil and water contamination from chemicals, heavy metals, trash, and human waste is dangerous to human and animal life. Roads, coal-fired power plants, factories, mills, and mining operations are some potential sources of pollution that can jeopardize your health and safety. For example, in a town near our farm, there is a paper mill that spews sulfur-smelling particulates that, on some days, are trapped by the surrounding mountains. When this happens, the town is enveloped in a misty haze that is awful to experience. As we are in the early beginnings of the Long Emergency, we will not be able to effectively deal with these types of pollution on a local level with local tools. That is why it is essential to consider these toxic sources and adjust your location accordingly. Farming on contaminated soils or breathing in polluted air will not benefit you, no matter how perfect or scenic the place may be.


Factory farms:

Poultry and livestock farms produce immense amounts of manure that prevailing winds can bring to your doorstep. These inhumane factory farms generate foul smells, and the heavy metal and chemical use can also infiltrate groundwater and soils, causing long-lasting pollution. Planting a row of trees will not prevent the obnoxious smells from passing through your property and impacting your health. In addition, the large on-site slurry pits are ecological disasters that are best avoided. You would think that these would be valuable resources in a nation of fertilizer scarcity, but American innovation and adaptation are apparently a thing of the past. Turning these pollutants into nutrient-rich compost is unfortunately not mainstream at this juncture.


Natural Resource Extraction:


Moutain top removal site

Natural resource extraction is a significant pollution source and can be a major disruption for those living nearby. The previous fracking boom may be slowing down, but the undisclosed toxic chemicals shoved down these wells will be around forever. The greed of gas companies and the county overseers screwed over countless future generations. For a while, I theorized that dwindling oil and gas reserves would cause coal companies to pick up the slack. This, however, does not appear to be the case as diesel, used to power the machines that mine and transport the coal, is becoming harder to source and afford. I encourage readers to visit a mountain top removal site in West Virginia or Kentucky to determine if this is an area they want to live. The devastation is mindblowing to behold. The local population was caught between making a living and permanently destroying their children's inheritance. Not a good place to be. Elsewhere, mineral extraction can be just as devastating but for how long? Diesel is the fuel needed to move the mining machines and is already becoming increasingly difficult to source and afford. Perhaps the days of large-scale mining are coming to an end? Still, the pollution from these places will be around for a very long time and is another source of pollution to look out for.

Taxes:


The differences in county taxes for personal property and real estate can be huge. Even counties that border each other will have different tax rates. In addition to the county, you have state and federal taxes to contend with. I list potential counties I like and then check their county websites to write down their tax rates for comparison. Counties closer to major cities usually have higher taxes than those further away.


Permitting:


Check the details

I'm rolling my eyes at this one. To some degree, I understand permitting makes “reasonable” sense to make sure no one is dumping raw sewage into a yard or stream or electrocuting themselves. Personally, I find that the human desire for self-preservation should decide how an individual wants to build a structure. As long as it is not jeopardizing the health and safety of others, let people be people. Having said that, we are still a part of a racketeering society, so there are numerous ways county and state bureaucracies find ways to stuff their coffers. If you are a very compliant person and feel more comfortable doing so, then keep in mind the costs involved with home construction, septic, plumbing, electricity, and so on, along with the permitting fees. Like taxes, some counties are more lenient than others, and some states are much better than others.


Zoning:


If you wish to own livestock or poultry or run a small business from your home, zoning plays a massive factor in what you can do. Yes, some towns are making it possible to own a certain number of chickens or bees in small yards as interest grows in backyard agriculture. I look for zoned agricultural land so I can raise farm animals and receive certain tax breaks. Looking into local zoning laws will give you an idea of what possibilities can be accomplished.

Prisons:


Here is another place I like to avoid. Not only is the idea of living down the street from a prison stressful, but what happens to these folks when the prison systems break down? The supply lines to keep these convicted criminals warm, fed, and contained will disintegrate as the electric grid ages and fuel becomes scarce.

Photo courtesy of Michael & Diane Weidner

Factor in the developing food crisis in the States, and you have yet another set of problems waiting in the shadows. The worst possible scenario is that states release large numbers of criminals into an already stressed society. Not a fun situation to think about, but our fellow Americans in local and state governments are already incapable of making good decisions so we need to plan accordingly. They won't have to deal with their consequences, but you will. Prisons naturally have a culture of violence that could be released into the general public, further complicating our situation. What if power outages cause systems to malfunction in these prisons, enabling convicts to simply walk out unhindered? Likewise, it will only take one, guard, to open the doors and let many bad people out into the community. Locals will have no way of knowing who has been released or escaped.


Neighborhoods:


I have talked about the importance of knowing the neighbors before making a move in previous posts on the Finding Home Series. I want to mention again how important it is to understand the local culture and the potential people you may call neighbors. Researching these people on state crime reports and social media will help give you an idea of what you are dealing with. You can also drive around to see the conditions in which the locals keep their houses. Are they run down with trash and abandoned cars strewn over their yards? Are these places maintained to the best of their abilities? Having an appreciation for personal property is a good indicator of whether the neighbor is low class or not. Of course, these are generalities, but they are ideas to keep in mind while scoping out a potential home.

In order to find the best place to put down roots, it is important to look before you leap and examine all aspects of an area. Being able to determine what areas are safe will give you peace of mind. No area is perfect but considering these topics during your search will help guide your decisions and give you the greatest shot at success.


 

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