by Wanderer Werewolf
©2010 Wanderer Werewolf

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    Author’s note: Welcome to The Red King’s Dream! Before we launch into this issue’s topic—urban design—I should explain that I’m 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 I’ll 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. It’s not for amateurs.
    Ah, but fictional city design? Amateurs have been at it for generations. True, it’s 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 child’s 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 it’s -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 it’s nomads following the wild herds, a clear spring, or the railroad coming through. Of course, the problem with things like railroads is that they’re not permanent… a lot of ghost towns got that way because the railroad didn’t go where they thought it would, or because a new set of tracks absorbed all the traffic that formerly used the ghost-town-to-be’s 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 they’ll line up with one of these:

  1. 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 it’s the tent of the nomad chief or the river or even the railroad construction site. At this stage, the community isn’t 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 they’re 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…
  2. Village. At this stage, the community is much bigger, and less mobile. Individual waste pits take the place of the encampment’s 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 it’s harder; the bigger the community gets, the harder it is to keep it together on the march. What’s 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 it’s still growing, tends to outstrip the ‘city limits’ on a regular basis. As more and more people arrive, eventually we move to…
  3. 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 London’s 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 it’s a fort or a castle depends on the setting and the amount of money involved, but it’s still a big, fortified area for protecting the townspeople. (If the castle or fort isn’t 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. You’ve heard of George Washington, I trust?) The larger forts can even be frontier towns all by themselves… ever hear of Fort Worth, Texas?
        It’s 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.
  4. City. Technically, this is the last stage we’ve 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 doesn’t endanger a community this size, though; sheer numbers make up for it. You don’t mind the loss of a fort when you’ve got an entire army in the field, and house-to-house fighting… well, let’s just say it’s 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. London’s 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 it’s 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 you’ve decided on your stage of development, there are only a few rules to keep in mind:

    You’re pretty well finished at this point; the rest is window-dressing. For the most part, it doesn’t matter whether your inn gets its water from a well, an aqueduct, a magic pitcher, or a wormhole pipette. And sewers… well, there’s a reason ‘Absurdly Spacious Sewer’ is a trope. They don’t make any sense, most of the time, but they’re 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, ’taurs—life forms with four legs and two manipulatory limbs—are 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, it’s your story or adventure, and your decisions are key.
    Now, how can these facts serve us in adventure and story design? Consider:

   Having covered the above-ground structures, next time we’ll take a look at sewers. (Ah, what a waste… -treatment system…) We’ll 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!

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