Authors note: Welcome to The Red Kings Dream! Before we launch into this issues topicurban designI should explain that Im having a few e-mail difficulties here. Server upgrades
gotta love em. So anyone trying to reach me will likely have some trouble. Just be patient, and Ill get to your messages as soon as I can.
Urban design, especially as first glance, looks horribly complicated. Streets, buildings, city services, sewers
pretty daunting. Planning real cities takes a lot of education and experience, after all. Its not for amateurs.
Ah, but fictional city design? Amateurs have been at it for generations. True, its not really as easy as scatter a few buildings here and there, especially if you want your city to feel realistic. But depending on the stage of development, your city, town or village can be, if not childs play, at least easy enough that you can slap something decent together on the fly.
Step 1 is, and will always be, deciding where your city is. Terrain is pretty important when it comes to building placement, as it changes the shape of the entire community. Hills will squash the city together; plains will spread it out. And mountains either chop it up or stop it cold, depending on how badly you need more room. Likewise, climate will affect both the style of buildings (at least until you hit the age of climate-controlled interiors) and the amount of sprawl, i.e., how rapidly your city spreads. As a rule, the more comfortable the temperature, the more sprawl. The hotter or colder, the less sprawl; nobody wants to spend a long time getting to the next building when its -10 degrees Fahrenheit or 90°F in the shade.
Step 2 gets a little more complicated: Why is your city there, rather than any of the other places it might have been? Every city springs up for a reason, whether its nomads following the wild herds, a clear spring, or the railroad coming through. Of course, the problem with things like railroads is that theyre not permanent
a lot of ghost towns got that way because the railroad didnt go where they thought it would, or because a new set of tracks absorbed all the traffic that formerly used the ghost-town-to-bes rail line. In any event, the reason the city is there gives you the center: The point from which your city grows.
Step 3: Determine your level of development. All communities known to exist go through the following stages. They may be modified in shape and size, but generally theyll line up with one of these:
- Encampment. As you can guess, this type of community is typically either very new, very primitive, or very temporary; nomads swear by it, since it keeps things simple enough for easy movement. (To your tents, O Israel!) This stage of development is usually a ragged circle around the center of the community, whether its the tent of the nomad chief or the river or even the railroad construction site. At this stage, the community isnt very organized; typically, the closer you are to the center, the more important you are (especially since the waste pits go outside the camp), with the obvious exception of warriors. Since theyre needed on the outside of the camp, warriors are typically distributed around the perimeter, forming a defensive ring. This sets us up for the next stage
- Village. At this stage, the community is much bigger, and less mobile. Individual waste pits take the place of the encampments communal waste pit; in agricultural communities, human and animal waste is collected and turned into fertilizer (waste not waste, want not, so to speak). Nomads can still maneuver at this size community, but its harder; the bigger the community gets, the harder it is to keep it together on the march. Whats more, the semi-random encampment has begun to stratify into neighborhoods; like begets like, after all, and people of the same profession tend to wind up in the same place. (Seldom right next to each other, but generally in the same location.) Semi-fixed defenses often put in an appearance as well: Basic guard towers and defensive walls improve security, though the community, if its still growing, tends to outstrip the city limits on a regular basis. As more and more people arrive, eventually we move to
- Town. Larger than the village, the town is also more rigid; with size, you lose mobility, and communities of this size are very seldom mobile. Likewise, the neighborhoods have increased in size and concentration, to the point of towns having districts and streets being named after the occupations in the area. (Everything from the ordinary Cooper and Baker to the more, er, esoteric ones like Londons Gropecunte Lane. Sorry for the language, folks, but that was its real name, and yes, it meant what it said.) Static defenses are usually in place
but seldom a great deal of use, since the population tends to outstrip the walls on a yearly, if not seasonal, basis.
One memorable static defense usually puts in its appearance at this point: The fortified enclave. Whether its a fort or a castle depends on the setting and the amount of money involved, but its still a big, fortified area for protecting the townspeople. (If the castle or fort isnt properly placed, things can get
interesting. One young surveyor during the French-Indian War placed a British fort on swampland. By the time the Indians attacked, the walls had sunk so low they could be jumped, and all of the cannon had drowned. The young surveyor got out of surveying and went on to better things. Youve heard of George Washington, I trust?) The larger forts can even be frontier towns all by themselves
ever hear of Fort Worth, Texas?
Its also at around this level that the first attempts to make sense of urban planning take place. Most modern methods are based on the Romans, who liked to divide up the city by a square grid and purpose the land by percentages. This has the advantage of making for a clear and simple street system and straightforward boundary lines
which, of course, seldom last a generation before the increasing population density drives the authorities to adjust the percentages or add roads where there were none. No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, after all, and this maxim is as true in urban planning as it is in warfare.
- City. Technically, this is the last stage weve arrived at; all further developments are based on the City. The defenses have been swallowed up, the population is even larger than the town, and the neighborhoods have become downright stratified. This is generally the stage at which the larger facilities, such as large temples (including basilicas and cathedrals as well as pantheons) become available
including the college and university. The lack of overt defenses doesnt endanger a community this size, though; sheer numbers make up for it. You dont mind the loss of a fort when youve got an entire army in the field, and house-to-house fighting
well, lets just say its one of the reasons Truman authorized the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan. Nasty stuff.
This is also where things can get interesting. Names of streets and districts, set down in the Town days, may not make much sense anymore. Londons Fleet Street, for instance, no longer houses any news agencies
yet Fleet Street is still the name for the newspapers. (Gropecunte Lane, as you can imagine, has undergone several name changes, and has been shortened to Grope Lane. Bad enough, yes? Particularly since its no longer the red light district.) Names can be changed, if enough people agree (or at least, if enough of the right people agree), but that can cause its own problems. Martin Luther King Boulevard, anyone? Not to mention Malcolm X Boulevard. Both were assigned to streets that had been named for decades, and the confusion is only just now settling.
Once youve decided on your stage of development, there are only a few rules to keep in mind:
- The less people like it, the farther out it is. Charcoal burners and tanners, because of the smoke and smell, were very unpopular in the medieval era, and were almost entirely exclusive to the outskirts of town. These days, clubs of questionable moral intent like to take advantage of unincorporated territory to avoid the law.
- A place for everything, but not everything in its place. From Roman records, we know the various temples were always trying to get more property added to their percentages, along with everything else. (Bureaucracy, alas, has never changed.) This tended to produce small, out-of-the-way temples and parks, just to justify the land.
- Location, location, location. Inns and hotels need places for customers to put their transportation, whether its stables, a parking lot, or a parking garage. The same applies to hospitals, colleges, universities, castles, forts and local trade fairs. Merchants need storage; castles need a hill or bluff. Keep the necessities in mind when youre placing your features.
- Everyone needs something to call their own. Small towns always want more money coming in, and one cheap way to do it is with festivals. One town has a harvest festival; one has a heritage festival; one has a military festival. In the medieval era, Faires were the way to go; market faires had to be authorized by the king, but they always brought in a lot of money (and no few thieves and charlatans). Unusual or ancient structures tend to attract business as well
although, unless you need adventurers, youre more likely to get scholars (and they dont pay nearly as much).
Youre pretty well finished at this point; the rest is window-dressing. For the most part, it doesnt matter whether your inn gets its water from a well, an aqueduct, a magic pitcher, or a wormhole pipette. And sewers
well, theres a reason Absurdly Spacious Sewer is a trope. They dont make any sense, most of the time, but theyre loads of fun. (One look at the sewer scenes in Ladyhawke will tell you that. And, hey, if you need justification, just invent an insane ruler who liked to take boat rides through the sewers. After all, Mad King Ludwig had an entire grotto carved out for his boat rides
Remember, though: Adapt as needed. For instance, taurslife forms with four legs and two manipulatory limbsare unlikely to have stairs (ramps are easier), and will take some time to get to multi-story buildings; taurs are tall and heavy, after all. Creatures with D&D-style darkvision will only need light sources when color matters. And predator-types may not bother with much agriculture at all, beyond keeping prey animals. Still, its your story or adventure, and your decisions are key.
Now, how can these facts serve us in adventure and story design? Consider:
- Manhattan Island was sold three times to the Dutch, by three different sets of Indians, because the Dutch werent expecting nomads. Imagine: A town buys additional land from a local tribe of humanoids, only to have a tribe of the same kind (or even a different kind) come back next season and demand payment. Are the tribesmen telling the truth? Are they the real owners of the land? Or are they trying to pull a fast one?
- A bad survey can do a lot of damage, as in the example of George Washington and the British fort. Imagine discovering that your centuries-old community is built atop the resting place of a huge monster
and that resting place doesnt mean its dead! Similarly, setting up camp inside the reach of a powerful force, whether political, scientific or magical, can be a big problem. Its not fun to be the New Toy
especially when your owner insists on making alterations. (I think Ill like you better with tails! poof! There you go!) Swampland, gas pockets, hidden magical springs
the possibilities are endless, even if you should limit yourself to one or two per town.
The Arthaus Gamma World RPG has two particularly appropriate science-fiction creatures, both artificially intelligent. The Oasis Machine can change anything it can get hold of, in any way it likes
and it likes to follow the plan its programmed with. Imagine a sentient wolf being slowly turned into a sheepdog
(Im not a sheepdog, Im a wolf! Set sheepdog intelligence: Low Im not a ship
) Conversely, the Ecoweb sets up managed predator-prey relationshipsas imagined by radical environmentalists and implemented by an artificially stupid machine. (But I dont want to eat him! Hes my friend! Irrelevant. The Circle of Life must continue.)
- Street names change
which can cause a lot of trouble with maps. Worse is when places change: Imagine looking for a church you know is on a street that has a different name
but you dont know the new name, or if the church is even still around! (Do you mean Old Coopers Lane, or New Coopers Lane?)
- Finally, moving from one development stage to the other by changing your address can be very unsettling, and a great opportunity for fish out of water scenarios. Imagine a dog-morph looking around the city for the communal waste pit
(I cant hold it in much longer!)
Having covered the above-ground structures, next time well take a look at sewers. (Ah, what a waste
) Well look at the birth of the Absurdly Spacious Sewer trope, additional justifications for having them, and what a realistic sewer system would be like. (Eeeeewwww
) See you next time!