|Homelessness is already spiking in cities across the USA|
Should disaster strike, being located in a large city is likely to present a number of problems specific to the urban denizen. Due to their concentrated nature, any large scale and ongoing outage in electricity and/or fuel is likely to put the city dweller at a considerable disadvantage to those living in less heavily populated areas. Urbanites often say they feel safer in cities. It's what they know, and often it is where they grew up. And to a certain extent they may be correct: relief efforts during the initial stages of a cataclysm are usually focused on large metropolitan areas where the largest number of people can be serviced via centrally-located distribution points. The shops may all be empty as just-in-time distribution systems enter a state of paralysis but it's a reasonable expectation that there will be an aid agency on hand to give out some food and bottled water to anyone willing to queue up for hours or days. What's more, cities contain much of the most valuable infrastructure in the country, including government offices and centres of finance, so it is likely that much of this will be secured from chaotic elements by the Army.
That was the good news.
The bad news is that due to the concentrated and hyperconnected nature of cities a crucible effect will take place and collapse will be a lot speedier and lethal than in non-urban settings. In a recent report the Pentagon states that by 2030 the world's megacities will be ungovernable hothouses of urban decay filled with rioting youths, collapsing infrastructure and chronic levels of crime. Here's a quote from OffGuardian (link):
"According to a startling Pentagon video obtained by The Intercept, the future of global cities will be an amalgam of the settings of “Escape from New York” and “Robocop” — with dashes of the “Warriors” and “Divergent” thrown in. It will be a world of Robert Kaplan-esque urban hellscapes — brutal and anarchic supercities filled with gangs of youth-gone-wild, a restive underclass, criminal syndicates, and bands of malicious hackers."
In large cities, rich and poor live cheek by jowl, meaning the wealthy and even the reasonably well-off are likely to be easy targets for gangs of looters. Should an economic collapse occur at the same time it is likely that the police, ambulance and fire services will not be paid, meaning they will be less willing to risk their lives by entering 'no go' areas—if they even bother to turn up to work at all. Forced acquisition of housing will also likely occur in this scenario as squatters and the dispossessed exploit the lack of law and order.
Even on a very basic level, surviving in a large city in which the power has been shut down is likely to be very difficult—if not impossible—for most. Without access to land to grow or catch food, city dwellers will find themselves unable to feed themselves in short order. Climate will also be an exacerbating factor, with apartment dwellers in cold regions finding it impossible to heat their living spaces, and those living in very hot regions unable to use air conditioning. Without power, water will not run from taps, and toilets will not flush. Backed up sewage systems will spread disease, as will the exploding rodent population feeding off the mounds of uncollected garbage and unburied bodies. People who have not prepared for such eventualities by gathering food and equipment to help them through such a period of turmoil will be at a considerable disadvantage and may find the psychological pressure alone too much to bear under the circumstances.
With urban dwellers having invested in very little in social capital it's likely to be a case of 'every man for himself' within a matter of days of disaster striking. And disaster could strike in the form of a natural cataclysm, such as a tornado or a flood, or it could be man-made, such as a grid outage caused by computer hackers, or a nuclear or chemical strike. It could even be something as mundane as a sudden currency devaluation, sending the economy into a tailspin. Furthermore, it is worth bearing in mind that large cities present easy targets for state and non-state terrorists.
Of course, escaping to the countryside will also present its own set of challenges, and it would be wishful thinking to assume that the majority of the urban population could easily move out to grow vegetables and raise chickens. A potential half-way house might be the sprawling suburbs that surround many cities (especially in America). It is not beyond the scope of our imagination to see that many of the houses could be retrofitted to provide better protection against the elements, and the extensive lawns surrounding them turned into food producing spaces. Due to their large size many so-called McMansions could house several families at a time, assuming the materials they are made from hold together, and new localities would form in this way.