World Building 02#: Towns and Cities

Another thing that seems to be one of those “duh” moments in writing high fantasy is the “human settlement”.  That’s the term Wikipedia uses, anyway.  Towns, cities, villages, hamlets, etc.  They are ubiquitous, utterly common, and incredibly complex.

Don’t believe me?  Go to any city that is considered “large” in your particular area.  Just sit down somewhere and watch.  It doesn’t really matter where.  Just sit and watch.

If you’re watching a major highway intersection, you see the result of years of construction and decades of trial and error on the part of the people who set the rules of the road.  If you’re looking at a super-market, what you see is the concatenation of many, many store-keeper’s experiences.  They discovered that certain things worked and combined them into a competent business practice.

The buildings are also and always the result of years of trial and error.  Often, the lesson learned is ignored for the sake of expedience or costs, but those lessons are evident.  Flat-roofed buildings are a good idea in a constantly dry, hot climate, for several reasons.  First, there’s little rain to worry about, so run-off control isn’t necessary.  Second, the flat roof has less surface area to soak up sunlight and heat the building than does a sloped roof; this means the house is cooler.  Third: there’s more storage space, or space for a food-drying area.

In rainy, cold climates, buildings are often made with high, sloped roofs.  These shed rain with ease, ensuring that the interior stays dry.  Heavy rain, snow, and other weatherly materiels slide off, preventing their weight from damaging the roofing.  The extra square footage necessary to make this type of roof is extra area to absorb sunlight and help heat the house.

The climate affects the houses in other ways as well.  Wet, cold climates tend towards high buildings, needing less roofing for the same floor area, and allowing the heat from fires to move up through the various floors.  In dry, hot climates, the houses tend to be sprawling, with low, cool ceilings and many windows.  They often have interior gardens, etc.

Other things that affect cities and towns are is the traffic.  In cities with cars, there will be parking lots (or towers), there will be large, wide roads with many signs and alleys will be widely spaced.  There will be sidewalks and places for pedestrians and bikes to cross.  In a city with only horses and the accompanying wagons, the streets will be fairly wide, but probably only wide enough for one cart, or possibly enough for two to pass.

In the tightly spaced towns of older times in our world, the streets were very narrow, not even cart or carriage wide, because most travel was done on foot or horse.  Only the rich had carriages and farmers carts only needed to make it to the market, where the street could be wide.  The alleyways between houses would be narrow, as would the streets leading to the houses.

Market areas tended to disappear as cars and specific stores became more common.  In medieval towns, these areas would group together, as would the craftsmen’s shops, and sundry other related areas.  The water for towns would come from public wells or rivers, so these areas were often designed for public use.

Towns with raised defenses around them would be even more segmented, though a good deal of the town might be outside the walls, which could result in multiple markets, housing areas, etc.

As stated in my WorldBuilding 01#: The Environment, towns and cities were placed with much more care, in regards to their surroundings.  Today, towns can spring up wherever and whenever, because of our roads, cars, and shipping.  In older times, considerations such as accessibility were important, as was water, arable land, and trade routes.

A high fantasy writer should pay extreme attention to his towns, if he is going to describe them in any detail.  The detail that seems unimportant to the author can be become a fixation for a reader.  If it doesn’t “fit”, it can hurt your story.  Paying attention to minute causes, reasons, and effects your world has on your settlements can make your story much, much better.


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