Day Two Hundred and Eleven: The King of Cities
For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.
Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.
Wish me luck!
Since it’s my day off, giving me more time than usual, I thought I’d talk today about one of my cities. This time we’re talking about the first fictional city I used – Corsair City. It showed up in the story Delay, which is set in a future far enough away that teleporting from one place to another has become as mundanely irritating as going to an airport is for us. I needed something that sounded kind of cool and futuristic, and that was the name that popped into my head. Corsair. Two weeks later, it showed up again, and by that point it was my go-to Big City.
Before getting into the gritty details, let’s see what the stories tell us about it:
- Corsair has (will have) a major teleportation hub.
- Corsair City has an eponymous university, where three-time Nobel Prize winner Julian Harcrow works
74: Mass Man
- The Lady of the Rooftops is called “the guardian of Corsair City”. She works with a reluctant police department.
- Photon the Magnificent also works out of Corsair
79: Ancio’s House
- Home to the Half-Moon Gang, a gang of teenage criminals.
- Broadmoore Hospital is in the oldest part of the city.
- The city has a poor section, complete with tenements.
- Captain Cosmos worked out of Corsair.
- Harcrow worked at the University.
- Corsair city has a large population of super-heroes.
- There’s a Corsair Academy, which has a good social sciences program.
162: A Day Out
- Corsair is considered on par with Boston and New York in terms of size and influence.
- Corsair has a subway system.
- There’s “no end to the beautiful people in Corsair City”.
- Boulevards are named after months. Logically, there should be at least twelve of them.
- Juno Park is in Corsair. It has a small cafe that’s trendy and expensive.
- There’s a subway station on September Boulevard.
- Corsair may be the location of Cerbecorp headquarters.
Wow. For all the times it shows up, we don’t really know that much about it. Not sure how that happened…
In any case, that’s what we know about Corsair – it’s a large, bustling metropolis with lots of metahumans in it. In my mind, I see it as an East Coast city, which brings us back to the problem of location, location, location. Just as I had to squeeze Sylvania City into the Pacific Northwest somewhere, I now have to jam Corsair into an already crowded sprawl, somewhere along the East Coast. Fortunately, the kind people of Maryland have left a lot of non-urban space open in their city, and it provides what I’m pretty sure is an excellent location for Corsair. I can put it right off of Chesapeake Bay, where Eastern Neck is these days. That’ll give me an interesting geography to play with.
Similar to New Zealand, Corsair City will have a North and South island split, the South Island being where the Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge is. Sorry, animals. Being on the Bay also fits the name – Chesapeake had a long history of piracy, and the corsairs were borderline pirates from France in the 17th and 18th centuries. While the French corsairs didn’t operate in Chesapeake, the bay was a home to such pirates as William Kidd, Theophilus Turner, and the infamous Blackbeard. The geography of Eastern Neck could be such that it was a good place for pirates to stay between trips out to find ships to plunder.
Again, as with Sylvania, I do have to know a little bit about the western shores of Delaware and figure out why it never sprouted a metropolis of its own. What is it about the land there that didn’t attract a city? Was it too wet and sandy and unstable? Is there something different about being on the eastern side of the bay that won’t permit a city? After all, right across the waters you can find Washington, DC and Baltimore. What was it about their locations that made it possible for a large city to be built?
I have no idea, and I’m not entirely worried about it. After all, we’re talking about a city with a high concentration of superheroes, so I’m not above re-jiggering some basic geology or oceanography or economics to make my city possible. But if I want to make the city believable, it would behoove me to do some research into the history of the Bay, and the histories of the two cities that Corsair is going to share its space with.
So we have its origin going back to the heady days of piracy, when ships would use the many coves and rivers as home bases while they weren’t off pillaging. The south island probably got built up first, perhaps as a fortress of sorts, so that’s going to be the “old section” of the city, where Broadmoore Hospital is and where Ancio got into trouble with the Half-Moon Gang. As piracy declined during the early days of the United States, the city took on a more mercantile function and became a major shipping center for the Atlantic coast. It quickly spread up to the mainland, which is newer and more modern. This is where most of the subway system is – there’s one small branch that goes into the South Island. This lesser access has resulted in (or is caused by) the South Island losing its influence and its economic power. Along with being the oldest part of the city, it’s now the poorest.
I imagine the city had a good part to play in the War for Independence, but I’m not sure about the Civil War. Again, that’s where research comes in handy – what did the people east of the Chesapeake do during that war? What were their influences and politics?
(And talk about synchronicity – this post just came up on Metafilter about the rivalries between Maryland and Virginia during their colonial days. They fought bitterly over religious and resource issues, and apparently still aren’t very friendly with each other. Excellent.)
Now, in the early 21st century, Corsair has grown to rival other great cities in the East Coast Sprawl. It’s not the shipping hub it used to be – after all, a city on the other side of the Chesapeake has access to, well, the rest of America, but if there was a Shadow Capital to the United States, Corsair would be it. Again, I’m still not sure of a lot of the details of how it works, mainly because urban economics are not my strong suit.
I expect that as I do more research into how cities work and grow, Corsair will change as well. Some of what I thought I knew about the city will no longer be true, which is always sad. But the more reality I can bring to it, the stronger it will become. And in the end, all a fictional city really needs in order to stand out is a soul, which is given to it by its people. We don’t know what the primary industries of Metropolis or Gotham City or Ankh-Morpork are, and we don’t really need to know. Nobody reads about those cities in order to find out more about urban development and planning. But the growth of a city will determine the kind of people who live there, and the people are what make the city great.
Any book recommendations you have on how cities grow and develop would be greatly welcome, of course.