Developers in the USA are cashing in on doomsday prophecies by building extreme survival estates. Could this work in SA?
For many residents, security is the number one reason for moving to an estate. There is a comfort in the electric fences, controlled access, and the staffed gates. But, for some, that’s not enough. Let’s face it – what is your nice friendly security guard at the gate going to do in the face of a nuclear fallout, armed invasion or attack of killer zombies? Not much. That’s why savvy (or possibly paranoid) Americans are investing in survival condos.
The USA has quite a history of survivalist communities, one of the more colourful of which is the 16,000-hectare ranch belonging to the Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT). Built in the 1980s, this complex could house thousands in a complicated network of tunnels and bunkers with rooms sleeping up to a few hundred, and – yup, you read right – no waterborne sewerage. The good old bad old bucket system that is so unpopular here in South Africa was considered acceptable for church members who believed their leader’s prediction that the United States would be invaded by Russia in March 1990.
Along with the bunkers and stockpiles of delicious tinned food and dried beans bought on credit from suckers who would be dead by the time the cultists emerged from their bunkers after Armageddon, CUT had trained and armed security personnel and a small battalion of tanks.
And, for this secure but far from luxurious hidey-hole, they were charging $12,000 per person. And, no, regardless of how devout you were, it was the colour of your money that got you salvation. Interestingly, CUT got rid of their tanks when the IRS pulled their tax exemption because – under US law – churches were not allowed to own tanks, and also because 20 million litres of fuel they were stockpiling started to leak into underground aquifers adjacent to the country’s foremost national park – Yellowstone.
Working on a similar principle but with far more style and panache, US developer Larry Hall bought a disused nuclear missile silo for $300,000 in 2008, and built a luxury condominium development 60 metres underground. Part of a new breed of developers called doomsday capitalists, Hall and his like are cashing in on America’s preoccupation with disaster that has not changed since, as Billy Joel sings, they hid ‘under our desks in air raid drill’ in the 1950s.
Hall started selling in 2011, and all 12 units were sold out in months at $1.3 million each – just in time for the end of the world in 2012. (Ooops, another not-so-accurate prediction.) But the owners are prepared for the next … whatever. Survival Condo can accommodate 75 people in hermetic isolation for five years. Whether they will want to speak to each other after five years is another question.
A more practical approach is Fortitude Ranch, which enables investors to ‘prepare for the worst [and] enjoy the present.’ It’s basically a self-sufficient estate with the capability of totally cutting itself off from the outside world in the event of some kind of disaster.
It’s less elitist, much more affordable, far more practical and, from the website anyway, looks like a pleasant place to live and/or holiday while you’re waiting for the apocalypse – as long as you are comfortable around lots of guns. Activities on offer include hiking, biking, horse riding, hunting, fishing and lessons in shooting, survival and farming – not surprisingly, all skills that might one day just be useful. You know, for when …
Clearly, American developers are cashing in on a powerful zeitgeist in the USA, but would it work in South Africa with our painful history of elitist spatial planning? And would we want it to? Shouldn’t we rather be putting all that energy into creating an equitable future for us all?
Featured image credit: Survival Condo garage courtesy survivalcondo.com