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March 5th, 2005, 11:18 PM
This is a worldbuilding question, because in the long process of my current worldbuilding project, I was forced to ask myself why cities are built in the places they are built. I thought about it long and hard, and I came up with a lot of reasons...

1. Military bases - The families of soldiers, and craftsmen who hope to sell to soldiers, set up towns around military encampments which can eventually grow into towns and then cities. I have a firm understanding of where military bases are built, so this is understandable to me.
2. Natural harbors - Along the coast you have ports because there are few places that form good natural harbors. Later on people can build their own harbors, but as far as medieval man goes, you have to make due with what you have.
3. The funnel effect - I call this the funnel effect, but it is basically just having one path that you are reasonably sure people are going to take. Mountain passes or clearings between forests would make a great type of "funnel effect" town because people are going to come through there and you can then trade with them.
4. Natural resources - Mining towns have always been a huge thing, if there is a resource you can exploit then the chances are that you are going to set up there and try to exploit it. Water in the deserts, gold and silver in the mountains, whatever is valuable.
5. Impassable terrain - If the settlers moving in one direction come to a high mountain range or a wide river they might just stop and set up their town there. It's not one of the best reasons, but it is a reason why people would set up in some places.
6. Change of weather - If people are travelling and bad weather hits, then they are going to be forced to stop for a bit. When the weather gets better they might just choose to stay and then a town begins to form because the houses are already there...
7. Religious experience - Kind of like why the Aztecs founded Tenochtitlan where they did... You get a sign from God and you just start building.

This covers a lot of cases, but then there are the cases I just don't understand.
Cities in the American west where settlers stopped for no apparent reason along the way... What made them stop there and what kept the cities around? Farming towns in Europe where castles emerged because someone needed to claim lordship over the serfs? Crusader castles along the way to Jerusalem, why not just have different roads that go around them?

I think there is something that I am missing when I think about the reasons why cities and villages spring up where they do, and maybe all of you can help me figure out what it is.

March 5th, 2005, 11:44 PM
A city or town won't live without fresh water.

Sometimes a town happens in the west because of the railroads or a stageroute or a handy site of fresh water like a well.

Evil Agent
March 6th, 2005, 12:06 AM
I live in Canada, but most of my travels have been in Europe. It was there that I realized that almost every one of the major cities of Europe is built on a river (or at least a harbor/on the coast). Rivers are very key, especially in Fantasy which might take place in times that rely heavily on water trade/transport.

Also I'd guess that old cities were founded in spots that looks easily defendable, or that offered a unique geographic defense.

March 6th, 2005, 02:57 AM
I'd agree water supplies are the most logical, protected seaways like coves and bays, natural barrier breaks and after populated logical transportation interchanges

March 6th, 2005, 06:36 AM
You might be overthinking things there. In the examples you mentioned (castles, old west) the people stopped for various reasons (financial) but were able to stay because there was a water source (like the other posters have said). Why not stop and take control of some land? I'll take some land!

March 6th, 2005, 09:26 AM
Water is mentioned under #4. Granted it is only mentioned for "deserts," but anywhere lacking water is a desert...

Covered seaways and barrier breaks are also mentioned (#2 and #3).

I am trying to figure out, for this project and just for myself, the kind of socioeconomical factors that go into a town appearing in a place which is really nothing special; Something like a town in the middle of the plains.

March 6th, 2005, 09:29 AM
You might be overthinking things there. In the examples you mentioned (castles, old west) the people stopped for various reasons (financial) but were able to stay because there was a water source (like the other posters have said). Why not stop and take control of some land? I'll take some land!

This is more of what made people move from nomads to farmers. We can all read a history book and say, "Ok, it happened," but I am growing really interested in what would make someone change their entire way of life to settle down in one spot.
I ask this as our society's equivalent of a nomad, I could never live in one place forever, so what would change my mind and make me stop moving? It's not because farming is going to allow me to overproduce food in several years so I can start building an empire, it's a very small-scale personal reason why a few people would decide to stop in one seemingly random place and set up camp.

March 6th, 2005, 11:30 AM
If you have time for some reading, I recommend "Guns, Germs and Steel," by Jared Diamond. It came out a couple years ago and won a Pulitzer, and the book goes in some of the same directions you're thinking about.

The main theme of the book is why some societies developed to be so much stronger than others, with no better example than how Europeans were able to conquer and colonize the Americas, and not the other way around. A lot of his argument traces back to which societies were able to institute large-scale agriculture and domesticate animals earlier than others. And a key of his argument is that this depended mostly on chance: for example, Aboriginal Australians were hunter-gatherers up until the arrival of Europeans in the 18th/19th centuries. Why? Because the Aborigines were stupid? No, it's because Australia didn't have wheat and grains or domesticated animals until the Europeans brought them.

Anyway, makes for interesting reading.


March 6th, 2005, 09:21 PM
My region is ever expanding and I have noticed that when a new road is built most of the new construction occurs at the intersections. Agas station pops up and then a mini mall soon there is a subdivision. Once the subdivision fills up you get a convience store. After more of the area is built up and the population increases you get grocery stores and banks and churches. This is where until reletivly a short time ago was only a field with a few cows or horses or such.
I don't think new preplanned cities are being built. Might be a business venture...CityBuilders. Most cities were built up over time as more and more people gathered. Two travelers stop to exchange stories and build a fire and have a meal, another traveler later joins them and so on. It could happen at one specific spot, 5 yards from that spot or miles away.
Saint Louis, Missori is called the gateway to the west. The natural barrier of the Mississippi River caused people to gather. Why they picked St. Louis I don't know. But I do know Cahokia is not far which was an ancient Indian Civilisation. Why the picked Cahokia I do not know. It could just be the place where two indians felled a buffalo and went to get thier families to chow down and they decided to stay.
Something that may help you determine placement is Where NASA has chosen its Moon and Mars landing sites...Eventually I suppose there could be cities on these bodies and chances are these sites will serve as building sites.

March 7th, 2005, 03:23 PM
Some part of it might be personal choice as well. You have a group of people travelling and they all stop reasonably close to each other (say within 10 miles of each other give or take). If one of those people builds a wall, and the others don't, then when trouble comes (in the form of bandits, or animals, or something else), then that person's land will become the central gathering point because of that wall. Then, when the trouble is over.. the people might not move out as far and soon you have a town and then a city, etc.