About fifty years ago, a number of people started to get really lucky. While normal humans when exposed to toxic waste, radiation etc. die, these guys actually managed to exploit previously unknown loopholes in the laws of physics. Long story short, they became Supers.

At roughly the same time, various animals rapidly evolved / were discovered / woke up after a few million years / arrived from outer space / whatever. These, every one of them, also used these loopholes. So, not only did civilization have to deal with super villains (with heroes to fight them), but also with monsters that often dwarf cities.

As a result, the destruction of large metropolitan areas (for some reason, these seem to attract monsters and supervillains like magnets) has become an almost bi-yearly event.

Why do people insist on rebuilding cities in a universe where cities of a certain size regularly attract monsters the size of skyscrapers?

  • $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If_a_tree_falls_in_a_forest $\endgroup$ – mootmoot Jul 5 '19 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ In Iceland (I went there once as a tourist of the ring road many years ago), basically they are geologically still pretty active (volcanos and earthquakes.) From an outsider point of view, something geographically dramatic happens like every 5 years! But as far as each TOWN is concerned, it's been over 80 years since XX happened HERE, so it's not in living memory, so people rebuilt and forgot any lessons learned about escape/survival/building-guidelines. (commenting, not "answering", since I am not strong in my sourcing on this. But someone wants to develop the thought, cool!) $\endgroup$ – April Salutes Monica C. Jul 5 '19 at 15:32
  • $\begingroup$ For the same reason animals stick to herds? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herd#Reasons_for_animals_to_form_a_herd canr.msu.edu/news/… $\endgroup$ – rogerdpack Jul 5 '19 at 16:36
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    $\begingroup$ I'd say most metropolitan areas I've lived already have terrifying monsters and villains--and there are still people living in all of them. Also the Oregon coast is guaranteed to be completely destroyed soon (Most likely killing most/all occupants) and it's more populated than ever. It would be stranger for people to actually respond to a problem by leaving than by staying and ignoring it. $\endgroup$ – Bill K Jul 5 '19 at 17:51
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    $\begingroup$ Do you mean semi-annual (every 6 months) or bi-annual (every two years)? $\endgroup$ – RBarryYoung Jul 5 '19 at 18:33

10 Answers 10



walled village from King Kong


In worlds where cities are regularly attacked (Angel Grove being the best example, I think), the silly thing is not that people still live in cities. The silly thing is that these cities remain very similar in appearance to how cities look in our own giant monsterless universe.

After the second giant monster attack, people would figure it out. Smart folks live in cities. Maybe some of the Supers are super smart - definitely have them help with the planning. They would build walls and fortifications, like our ancestors did in bandit plagued lands and like the natives did in their village pictured in King Kong. Attack on Titan is another example - a world infested with giant monsters, and the human response is to hunker down in cities and fortify those cities against monster attack!

Cities would definitely have barriers and defensive weaponry. Supers will help too, but I am sure the supers would like their opponents softened up by long range weaponry in advance of the battle.

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    $\begingroup$ Even if not fortified: Cities tend to be where the other Supers that might stop the monsters are. Aside from that alien dude who hangs out in Antarctica and doesn’t know how to wear underwear, but nobody really likes him anyway. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jul 4 '19 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ You should add that in AoT they fortified the whole countryside, not just the cities. You still need room to grow food. $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Jul 5 '19 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ Tokyo 3 in the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion is a good example of this. Though instead of building walls, the city buries itself a couple hundred meters underground every time a monster comes (which kinda works because they know there's a limited number of monsters) $\endgroup$ – Blueriver Jul 5 '19 at 15:55
  • $\begingroup$ Pacific Rim also does this; kaijus want humans dead so they attack cities; humans don't stop buiding cities, instead, they build giant walls near cities to prevent kaijus from reaching there. $\endgroup$ – Josh Part Jul 5 '19 at 16:15

To summarize your question, it's basically 'Why does New York still exist in the Marvel universe?'

Questions like these have two kinds of answers - the Watsonian answer and the Doylists answer, or an answer from the author's perspective and the answer from the poor NPC sap's perspective. The answer from the author's perspective (Doylist) is simple - because it's easier than wordbuilding and more relatable to an audience. You'd rather watch the Avengers defending New York and its very remarkable landmarks than defending some brand new city, or more likely not even - group population centers aren't as necessary today now that 90% of work can be done online. A few start-ups to make eOffice-space programs and then you'd have a vast integrated network across the country, minus the main population centers.

The NPC perspective (Watsonian) is that they don't die during these attacks (somehow), they aren't the one who rebuilds everything (Tony Stark has his suits do it), and they've somehow managed to work their bystander syndrome to the point where seeing giant spaceships invade weekly is basically 'Huh, I guess that they'll block the rain. Better water my plants today." Yes, it's not good, but it's just a justification for the Doylist answer, and audiences are willing to put up with a small break from reality.

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    $\begingroup$ Excellent summary, but as far as I know, the one-punch-man universe fits the bill better. I don't think marvel has kaiju. $\endgroup$ – Mark Gardner Jul 5 '19 at 6:16
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    $\begingroup$ "You'd rather watch the Avengers defending New York and it's very remarkable landmarks than defending some brand new city" - *cough* gotham *cough* $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Jul 5 '19 at 9:27
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnDvorak that's DC (where all cities are made up - though Gotham & Metropolis are both based on NY) in Marvel most cities are real cities (with a few exceptions like Atlantis and Wakanda) $\endgroup$ – LinkBerest Jul 5 '19 at 13:44
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkGardner does Avengers vs. Godzilla count? Several other of Godzilla's traditional foes (kaiju) appearing during that series too. $\endgroup$ – LinkBerest Jul 5 '19 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkGardner Fing Fang Foom would like to have a word with you. And there are more than a few others. $\endgroup$ – Xavon_Wrentaile Jul 7 '19 at 2:59

My answer is in two parts.

Part I — a Frame Challenge

If you review my answer to Routine monster attacks and city economy, what you'll discover is that your monsters can't attack with any frequency at all or it's simply impossible to rebuild and continue. Unless you give the average community the "superpower" to rebuild with amazing speed, they're dead.

Therefore, frame challenge, monster attacks on cities are really rare. If it takes 1–5 years to build a skyscraper, and if we assume your monster(s) is/are worth their salt, then the shortest frequency of attacks is, what, once every 50 years? Otherwise your question is irrelevant because people can't rebuild fast enough to claim they are living in cities.

So, I know you want it, but unless you incorporate a way to seriously reduce the damage done by your monsters, they don't/can't attack all that often. Consequence: the natural "there's safety and more jobs in numbers" mentality takes over and people live in cities.

Part II — I give you, the Woolly Mammoth

Bernard Long, "Early Hunters Attacking a Woolly Mammoth"

Bernard Long, "Early Hunters Attacking a Woolly Mammoth" from the Illustration Art Gallery

In days gone by (and not much has really changed), humans brought down bigger-than-humans creatures with (a) intelligence and (b) numbers. I'm absolutely and without a doubt convinced that Hollywood it absolutely right when they portray the victory of human intellect and numbers over skyscraper-sized critters (Godzilla, Pacific Rim, etc.) because (and we all know it, right?) Hollywood is never wrong!

But on a more serious note, we really are pretty good at handling big critters (in fact, pretty much everything) given time to think and sufficient numbers.

And the value of cities is that, statistically, you can find a few smart people and a lot of cannon fodder help to stave off disaster. All we need is a little motivation! And the best battle cry I've heard in a long time is, "Nobody steps on a church in my town!"


People will stay in cities because, no matter the size of the critter, unless you allow that critter to attack often enough to stop people from staying in cities, they will always gather for safety, resources, and the simple reality that a lot of people can solve more problems than a few.

And history and Hollywood agree!

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    $\begingroup$ Yep, I can see Godzilla meat added to the menu as haute cuisine too. +1 $\endgroup$ – Tantalus' touch. Jul 4 '19 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ Well, since most superpowers can be used to increase construction work, and supers generally have relatively good plot armour (when was the last time a hero died in a car crash, or a building site accident), rebuilding should be significantly faster. $\endgroup$ – Mark Gardner Jul 5 '19 at 6:01
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    $\begingroup$ Department of Damage Control, anyone? $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jul 5 '19 at 11:53
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think that this is necessarily a valid frame challenge, given the genre and the OP's indication to intentionally use author's fiat (hand-waving) where necessary. $\endgroup$ – RBarryYoung Jul 5 '19 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ With ~1200 cities in the world ( unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/products/dyb/dyb2012/… ) an average of once every 50 years means 24 city attacks a year world-wide. That's enough that there will be another one before the previous is tidied up, so will get to the point that won't even make the international news, like most school shootings in the USA don't. $\endgroup$ – Pete Kirkham Jul 6 '19 at 11:35

Because its still safer for the majority (i.e. they will still attack in rural settings)

So we have a bi-annual destruction but cities still have benefits which would be hard to find in rural settings:

  • Enough people that one can hide or band together and have an effect
    • In rural settings you have less of a chance to "lead the monster away while the kids hide"
    • You can even setup watches so you have at least some warning of danger
  • A better chance that the Supers will show up "in the nick of time"
    • Might even have "signals" or other means of calling for them
  • Better community resources
    • You have one hospital in a farming community and it goes down - this is a really, really bad thing (seen it) vs. at least having a 2nd or 3rd in city
    • More diversity in important areas (if you have 1 or 2 doctors in a community and they die vs 20+ with a school in the city)
    • You actually have enough people to rebuild or even build: "safe houses", "underground bunkers", and other hiding spots (and maintain them)
  • It solves the "warband" coming communication problem
    • Rural city 1 gets destroyed but it can be weeks before the next rural city finds out...esp if it is then destroyed then 3 then 4 (nobody may ever know due to communication issues). City is big so there is at least a chance the next one will be forewarned.

Biggest reason (with above): its only safe to live in rural areas because of the cities making a big cycle of destruction

The only reason the cities are targeted is because there are so many in one place. Meaning that rural areas could get hit less and adding an attraction to people who want that way of life (which the urban centers will need for food production).

When too many people move to rural areas though then the opposite begins to happen (monsters attack small communities and farms) with all the negatives outlined above.

Then equilibrium is reached as cities are rebuilt and people move there from rural communities to escape all the monsters and we start again.

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People don't have the economic/political option to just leave.

During World War II people knew that cities were likely to be targets for bombing runs but you can't just run to the hills. You don't own property in the hills, you can only squeeze so many refugees into every country house, you work in some job that you have to do in a city (e.g. factory work), the job market is over-saturated in the hills... Cities may also increase in size because people migrate in from other destroyed cities because cities have more resources to deal with that migration than small towns.

So what can you do? The British sent their kids out to the country but even then not all the kids were evacuated: "only half of all school-aged children were moved from the urban areas instead of the expected 80%". So that's the reality of it, even though you can send your kids out to some lady in the country to look after, loads of people didn't (maybe they thought they'd miss them too much?)

Its also possible that the country doesn't want people moving to the hills because it will tank the economy and hinder the war effort (in this case against the monsters). So they may engage in propaganda or create laws to keep people in cities. Russia downplayed the dangers of radioactivity to people living nearby to test sites. Sometimes Russia payed people to stay in radioactive cites, while the rest of the country starved.

Just because you live in a dangerous area doesn't always mean you can move. You may not realize how dangerous it is, and you may not have the economic means to move.

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  • $\begingroup$ This isn't a reality check. [sad face] +1 $\endgroup$ – Mazura Jul 5 '19 at 18:57

Why do so many people today live in cities?

In the city you have more crime, more accidents, a much higher cost of living. If you watch regular news you will also get the feeling there is a real danger of terrorist attacks in major western cities, as well a a higher chance for civil war in bigger cities of unstable countries. There are still millions living in big cities even today and some monsters ain't gonna change this.

The perceived benefits outweigh the risk

Better jobs, a more diverse crowd of people and a bigger choice of stores/pastimes are a big allure of urban areas. For many younger folks the saying "I'd rather die than live on the country side" is quite real - they will accept a higher risk for the prospect of an exciting life.

People feel safer in a big group

While some people are loners, who will prefer to find safety on their own, most people will prefer the perceived safety of a big group. Since there are also rich and influential people living in the city, most people will expect the government to do its best to protect the cities. On the other hand people in rural areas are perceived to be on their own; if a villain or monster attacks there, probably no one will be there to help.

Humans resist change

If there is no clear way to salvation most humans will simply keep doing what they are doing. It is just human nature to keep to ones ways if all other ways seem dangerous. Since relocating is a lot of work and no guarantee for safety, many people will revert to human directive zero: Just keep doing what you have always done.

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You wrote

As a result, the destruction of large metropolitan areas (for some reason, these seem to attract monsters and supervillains like magnets) has become an almost bi-yearly event.

I am assuming that you do not mean that all large (what is large?) metropolitan areas get destroyed in a given year but rather that some of them get destroyed in a given year. An additional assumption is that the metropolitan area is not 100% destroyed, but rather some parts of them are destroyed.

Now, given those assumptions (which may or may not be true) it seems to me that you could argue that the statistical increase in danger, that is the chance that a given person residing in a given part of a given city is not big enough to render living in a city unbearable given all the prons mentioned above by JGreenwell

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I can take on a beehive and win, but it's going to end up stinging me (pun totally intended) as well. Even if you forget about the beehive and focus on an animal that can't really fight back (e.g. forest ants), just because I can take it on doesn't mean that I will prefer to do so for no particular reason.

The answer is different based on the animal's size, but in all cases metropolitan areas remain viable.

Dog vs human

If the animals are big but not building-big (i.e. humans are to the animal what a dog is to a human), then metropolitan areas can afford fortifications. It's easier (and better) to build one big wall around a city than it is to build walls around every remote farm. Having to build less walls means you can instead invest in buildin better walls. Also, a few guards can guard many civilians, as opposed to every farmer being their own guard.

Mouse vs human

If the animals are building-big (i.e. humans are to the animal what a mouse is to a human), then the animal still can't simply walk over the metropolitan area like it's nothing. It can walk on the people easily, but not the dense buildings in which the people will obviously go hide. Not that it can't take out a building if it wants to, but you'd need to give it a reason to want to take out a building.

This is where my beehive analogy comes in. Sure, the animal could come into the area and break stuff; but it will take effort, and the little people will at the very least inconvenience or wound it. Is it really worth the effort? Even if the animal is nigh invincible, it's still annoying to having to wade through the metropolitan area as opposed to a nice open field.

If your animal particularly feasts on people (or anything else found in a metropolitan area), then it's going to suffer the drawbacks because survival comes first. If the animal has easier food sources elsewhere, why would it bother with the more cumbersome metropolitan area?
Supposing your building-big animal does want to particularly come into the metropolitan area, then the same "unified defense" argument from before still applies. It's better for the humans to pool their resources and have a subset of people defend all people, rather than separating and requiring everyone to fend for themselves. It's really just a matter of effort versus reward.

Ant vs blue whale

If the animals are true leviathans that wouldn't even register if they stomp on a metropolitan area (i.e. humans are to the animal what an ant is to a blue whale) then it doesn't matter where you live. The animal will or will not trample you regardless of where you live. This is essentially like living your life under the rule of an indifferent temperamental god. All you can do is hope that god doesn't smite you, but you can't actually change it. You get smote, or you don't.

If you can't prevent something from killing you, it's pointless to spend your days worrying about it. True leviathans are so beyond our abilities that it's futile for us to dedicate our lives towards preventing something we can never prevent.

At this point, all that matters is living your life under the assumption you don't get stomped. The argument for living in a metropolitan area would be the same as if these animals did not exist.

Some may argue that it's better to spread out so the odds of the entirety of humanity getting stomped out lessen, but then again the average casualty rate will remain the same. This is where people's opinions will diverge. Some will want to go live remotely, whereas other either actively disagree or are indifferent to it and instead choose the day-to-day benefit of metropolitan life.

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The monster attacks aren't as bad as you think

In the real world, some cities have high crime rates. Some get bombarded by rockets every couple of months. Earthquakes, tornadoes, floods and fires cause massive loss of life and destruction of property. But the thing is, most disasters are small, and big ones are infrequent. For most people, life goes on.

The life of a firefighter is full of fires, the life of a police officer full of crimes, the life of a superhero full of villains. If we are focusing exclusively on their escapades, we might question how people can continue living in such a dangerous world and pretending things are normal - but when you run the numbers, the occasional monster or supervillain attack is barely a blip on the radar. Car accidents continue to be the main source of death in the modern world, and yet people continue to drive.

A Kaiju-scale threat might be a big deal, but a bi-annual event worldwide isn't much more common than the occasional city-wrecking natural disaster that occurs in the real world. Also, Kaiju probably do a lot less damage than, say, hurricanes because a superhero can stop them before they get very far.

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Why do people prefer metropolitan areas, considering monsters and villains?

Although fortification and arms can come into play here, the main reason is that people fell safer in numbers.

Safety in numbers is the hypothesis that, by being part of a large physical group or mass, an individual is less likely to be the victim of a mishap, accident, attack, or other bad event. Some related theories also argue (and can show statistically) that mass behaviour (by becoming more predictable and "known" to other people) can reduce accident risks, such as in traffic safety – in this case, the safety effect creates an actual reduction of danger, rather than just a redistribution over a larger group.

In biology

The mathematical biologist W.D. Hamilton proposed his selfish herd theory in 1971 to explain why animals seek central positions in a group. Each individual can reduce its own domain of danger by situating itself with neighbours all around, so it moves towards the centre of the group. The effect was tested in brown fur seal predation by great white sharks. Using decoy seals, the distance between decoys was varied to produce different domains of danger. The seals with a greater domain of danger had as predicted an increased risk of shark attack. Antipredator adaptations such as the flocking of birds, herding of sheep, and schooling of fish. Similarly, Adelie penguins wait to jump into the water until a large enough group has assembled, reducing each individual's risk of seal predation. - Safety in numbers (Wikipedia)

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