Home > World-Building > Day One Hundred and Ninety-seven: The City of Trees

Day One Hundred and Ninety-seven: The City of Trees

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!


Well, I was going to use my day off to carefully compile all possible information about Sylvania City today, but I chose to use my precious time off to nap and play Puzzle Pirates. [1] Still, even with that, I’m getting off to an earlier start than usual this evening, so let’s see what we can come up with for our City of Trees!

Now there is a certain peril, in my mind, in building a city, and that is that I am not China Miéville. A lot of authors have come up with a lot of cities – the Wikipedia entry for Fictional Cities and Towns is a tour of some fantastic stories, but for pure detail and precision in construction, the gold has to go to Miéville. His city of New Crobuzon is the main character in his book, Perdido Street Station, no matter how many other walking cacti, bug-headed women, or dream-eating moths he puts into it. So that’s pretty much my high bar right there. The downside, of course, is that he sometimes gets so immersed in his city that the story slows down to a crawl. Something to be wary of.

Here are the stories that either take place in or mention Sylvania City, and what they say about it:

45: Sleeper

  • The Sylvania Hortus
    • “It covered a thousand acres in the middle of the city and was home to every kind of growing thing that would survive there. There were lakes and ponds, rose gardens and wildflower hills and running tracks and vast lawns that were full of people on any halfway decent day. It was called The Green Heart of the City, and everyone who lived there said it was the biggest reason they stayed.”
    • a portal from the Hell Dimension opened up there at one point. Probably closed by the Custodes Omnium.

58: A New Order

  • Sylvania University
    • a few thousand students
    • home to the Ordum Sylvanius, a secret student organization

125: Summoned

  • Neil Tapscott resides at 454 Ingersoll Lane
  • There is an Acton Informatics branch there
    • or maybe even the headquarters?

135: Special Agent Khrys Ferro 3

  • It has at least one “rich suburb,” which was home to the leader of the Sons of Nazis, Dion Prospero.
  • There’s a branch office for the Department of National Security.

162: A Day Out

  • It has a bus system that extends at least out into the suburbs of the city.
  • Bemrich Circle is one of the more touristy areas of the city.
  • “Sylvania wasn’t the largest of cities – nothing like New York or Boston or Corsair – but it had an eclectic spirit all its own. The downtown was full of people and buses and cars, little bookstores and restaurants and huge national department stores.”
  • There’s a coffee chain called Javaville. It has yet to appear in any other story, so it may be local. Or not, who knows?
  • The Edles River
    • new walking park built there the year before
  • The Finamore Museum of Art
    • was holding a Picasso exhibition in this story
  • The Denton department store
    • has a cafe on the top floor, overlooking the city.
  • The Hortus
    • a giant park in the center of the city
    • museums along the sides
    • it has a fountain that can serve as a landmark

169: Water Whispers

  • The Edles River Aquanaut Museum

Okay, so that’s all the factual information we have about Sylvania City, unless I missed something. Everything from this point out is whatever the Elves give me. God help us all.

I imagine the city being up in the Pacific Northwest, probably because of all the trees and greenery. One of the problems with fictional cities, of course, is where to put them, especially if you want to keep all the real cities around just in case. For example, DC Comics has New York City, in addition to two New York analogues – Gotham City and Metropolis. They just manage to avoid ever really pinning down exactly where they are, leaving the terms very general. Gotham is an East Cost city I believe, while Metropolis is in the Midwest (unless you watch the movie, in which case it’s just replaced New York).

So where to put Sylvania? Looking at a map of Washington and Oregon, I need a place with a river and the potential for lots of trees. The best candidate (after a quick bit of Google mapping) is right about where Raymond, Washington is. Sorry, Raymondites, but you have what I need. Everyone out!

Now we run into our first real-world problem: space. The real Raymond, WA is a small town of less than 5 square miles, because it’s built between the loving arms of the Willapa River. I imagine the Hortus itself being about twice the size of Central Park, which would pretty much eat up most of that space in which Raymond now sits. So we need to do a little editing and move some of those pesky mountains back a ways until we have enough land around the Willapa/Edles to have both a city and a giant park. Also, I want to clean up with Willapa tributary system a bit, as it makes the land a wee bit swampy.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned it “wasn’t founded until just before the American Civil War.” I have this image in my head that it was founded by an early Utopian community, which started to get rolling in the 1820s on the East Coast, so I figure it wasn’t impossible for one to spring up on the West. What we have, then, is this community of Utopians who arrive in this nice, green place in the 1850s or so, look at all the rivers and trees and mountains and say, “We want to build a city here.” And they do.

This is a nature-worshipping community, and its governing council declares that the city must have a park in its heart. They chose the area between the two major branches of the Edles and declared it to be the Sylvania Hortus, preserved in perpetuity for the people of Sylvania. The rest of the city was built across the river from it and eventually the city swallowed the park entirely. But the town founders’ intent was honored, and the Hortus has remained a green sanctuary for its citizens for over a century and a half.

Of course, utoipias [2] don’t tend to last long, and when that community finally realized that Mother Earth wasn’t going to provide for them, a more sensible group of people took over. Sylvania became a logging center, acting as a key shipping port in the Northwest. Logging money brought more people and industry, especially when mines were opened up in the surrounding mountains that brought out copper, zinc, and especially the Finamore gold mines, which was one of the largest gold deposits in the state. That’s in addition to other mineral deposits, such as schist, olivine and some marble. Between the earth and the trees, and a river that was rapidly engineered to make shipping easier, Sylvania soon became a large and wealthy city.

The Finamore-Denton Feud – Okay, wow, that just popped into my head. Thanks, Elves!

I mentioned the Finamore gold mines up above, and the wealth of that family allowed them to do a lot for the city, including found an art museum. The Denton department store was founded by another very rich family, but they were a later addition. They arrived about a generation after the Finamores struck it rich, and made their money mainly through the Denton Shipping Company. The Finamores had goods to send out, and the Dentons had the means to ship them. They should have been allies at the very least, and for a while they were. Until… something happened. It could be something as simple as an unintentional slight, or one family member bad-mouthing another. Feuds have started for stupider reasons than that.

What it meant for Sylvania was that it was the battleground for two very rich families at the end of the 19th century. Instead of shooting each other in the street, however, the two families moved to simply out-do each other in construction and renovations around the city. Something of that old utopian spirit must have remained, because the feud resulted in the museum, several department stores, modernization of the Hortus, a zoo, and the expansion of Sylvania University into one of the largest universities in the state. That’s not including the general improvements to the city infrastructure, waterways, and the installation of the city’s first power grid.

This is not to say that there wasn’t violence. It was just done in a very gentlemanly manner and kept off the front pages of new newspapers, since each family owned at least one of them.

The feud ended during World War I. Both families lost sons to that war, and that seemed to have been a good tall glass of perspective for both of them. There was no ceremony or official exchange of hostages or anything. The feud just stopped. The modernization of the city slowed down some, but never really stopped. The modern feel of the city, mixed with its deep connection to the natural world, attracted artists, writers, and musicians. By the time of World War II, the city was a breeding ground for new music and art, and produced some of the most influential artists of its day.

In the twenty-first century, other cities have surpassed Sylvania as modern and forward-moving, but the city continues on at its own pace, with a population just over 500,000 people, and several suburbs that add another hundred thousand or so. The Denton and Finamore families still have homes there, and continue to reinvest vast amounts of their earnings – now turned more towards technology and investment – in the city itself.

Ideas for future stories:

  • The Feud, of course. How did it start? Why didn’t it take the path of bloodshed and horror? Whose idea was it to try and out-philanthropize the other family? What were the circumstances under which it ended, and how was the end brought about?
  • The early utopians and the founding of the city.
  • The height of Sylvania’s cultural influence. What kind of music did it produce, what kind of art and books? How did Sylvania influence American culture in its heyday? What is it doing now?
  • The Hortus is a really big place, and very important for the city. Why? Given that Earth Prime does have a supernatural element to it, is there anything spooky about the Hortus? A portal to the Hell Dimension opened up there, after all – how’d that happen?
  • The Ordum Sylvanius – what are they? What is their purpose at Sylvania University? And why are they kind of morons when it comes to recruiting new members?
China Miéville spent a lot more than one hurried evening mapping out his city, so the details of Sylvania are still terribly thin. Nevertheless, I think I have a better grasp on the city now than I did before, which was the whole point of this exercise. It’s one thing to just pull the city our of a list and say, “Okay, this story takes place here.” It’s another thing – a better thing – to think of a story and to know that the best place for it to be set is in Sylvania City. I hope to do the same with the other cities and towns that I’ve created over the last six months. Stick around.


[1] Not at the same time.
[2] Utopiae?


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