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I'm crafting the worlds and cultures of my own Alien societies and a near-future human world (near-future Earth), it's the first time I've attempted this in detail. Everything I've found so far about building cities is based on medieval technology and is unhelpful. I need it to be relevant to now and the near-future.

I want to create different kinds of near-future cities but can't wrap my head around all of the complex mechanisms that ensure a city can exist, and also the wider communities beyond, that assist the city to function.

These are the scenarios I'm working with:

  1. On the near-future Earth, I want to create cities that have been adapted to become more efficient and self sufficient, many major Earth cities will have dome-like structures built over them to protect them from the increasing impact of the sun, whereas any suburbs beyond are struggling to survive without the added protection but are finding ways to adapt.

  2. One of my alien cultures have a focus on knowledge, gathering and consolidating all knowledge gained within a planet-bound intelligence which acts as a guiding force for the race (besides rebellious subcultures). Their cities are pre-planned, consisting of megastructures/city-towers, with smaller towns of individuals who prefer the quieter life. More or less an optimal version of Earth where global warming is not a future concern due to more efficient planning and energy usage.

  3. The second alien culture is less functional, struggling to produce each generation of children due to genetic defects/fertility constrictions etc so their focus is upon community support, being able to ensure the optimal health for any pre-fertile individuals up until and after their fertility, and during gestation. I've settled on the idea of "Tiny Villages" where every resource needed within each community is within walking distance for the inhabitants. The examples I've seen of Tiny Villages has been lacking in depth and complexity though. I could perhaps use any answers regarding the city infrastructure to craft this.

Question:

  • What do I absolutely need to include in major (pop 100,000+ individuals) near-future cities to ensure they function almost on their own (including a minor contribution of external services and resources from wider communities)?

Due to a lack of life experience, I'm struggling to piece together the complex functions of a present Earth whole city enough to adapt them to my own fictional world. Any help will be immensely appreciated!

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding. As stated in our help center, we prefer to answer one question per post. It's fine to create several posts with somehow linked questions. Please do so, you have 3 different questions at the moment. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Jan 4 at 6:05
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you @L.Dutch-ReinstateMonica I have edited the post to consolidate to a single question $\endgroup$ – Rebecca Glaessner Jan 4 at 6:27
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    $\begingroup$ While it doesn't help you directly (because you're right, most city building is medieval), take a peek at our list of worldbuilding resources. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jan 4 at 8:15
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    $\begingroup$ I'm an architect and I have been working in many cities over the years - I know a lot of urban planners and JBH's answer is correct: Even now our cities are so complex that even with a 5 year Urban Planning Degree you still would not truly understand all the complex functions of modern cities. In the urban planning units I studied there are endless texts on the subject, from Aldo Rossi's Architecture of the City, Le Corbusiers Towards a New Architecture, and even Koolhaas SMLXL and dozens of planning books. Cities are large, incomprehensible and although thoroughly studied, very mysterious. $\endgroup$ – flox Jan 4 at 9:33
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    $\begingroup$ Take a look at the computer game "Cities: Skylines" which deals with a variety of city needs from water (the physics of which are pretty damn near perfect) electricity, transportation, enviroment, industry, service sector, housing, ect. Even if you can't run the game on your computer (the sheer amount of behind the scenes number crunching is quite taxing on anything short of top of the line platforms) the wiki and guides help show the level of detail to account for. $\endgroup$ – hszmv Jan 4 at 13:54
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What you've asked for is huge, so this is a necessary simplification

I've made this a community wiki because a thousand separate answers won't fully answer the question, so we might as well try to build on just one.

One of the reasons why most city-building resources focus on medieval cities is that they're small with simple needs. In a phrase: they're easy. Even contemporary cities here on Earth are massively complex by comparison. Future cities would even be worse. But... we can take a bird's eye view at this. BTW, while any individual may consider anything below to be a want vs. a need, the reality is that when you're dealing with large groups of people, this is all a need. Living is complex.

Housing

- Wealthy housing (expensive, low-density)
- Urban housing (moderate cost, medium-density)
- Labor housing (low cost-per-unit, high-density)
- Welfare housing (very low cost-per-unit, very-high-density)

Government

- Legislative (makers of law)
- Judicial (interpreters of law)
  * Lawyers
- Executive (enforcer of law)
  * Police/Military
  * Inspectors (construction)
  * Regulation (permits/certification/zoning)
  * Public schools/libraries
  * Roads & parks

Emergency Services

- Hospitals/clinics
- Ambulance/life-flight/paramedics
- Fire
- Pharmaceutical companies

Commercial

 - Grocery/restaurants
 - Services (there are MILLIONS of these things, see below)
 - Department retail (see below)
 - Warehousing
 - Industrial (metal working, brick making, chemical processing)

Education

 - Schools for sub-adults
 - Colleges/Universities
 - Vocational & trade
 - Community education
 - Big libraries (the Louvre, natural history museums, planetariums)
 - Pre-school/child-care
 - Special education

Financial

 - Holding companies
 - Brokerages/Investing
 - Banks/Credit Unions

Entertainment

 - Theater/Dance
 - Art/Literature
 - Film/Music/Video
 - Food/Drink
 - Electronic Services (see below)
 - Zoos & privately-owned parks
 - Walking/running trails
 - Amusement parks/carnivals/parades/celebrations/holidays

Religion/Philosophy

 - Houses of worship
 - Schools/camps

Raw Materials

 - Lumber
 - Mining
 - Farming/Ranching/Fishing
 - Hydroponics
 - Chemical processing

Utilities

 - Water (transport, sanitation) & Sewage (collection, processing & disposal)
 - Natural gas/propane
 - Electricity
 - Communication (phone, internet, radio/broadcast)
 - Fuel (gasoline/oil/diesel, nuclear fuel & control-rods, coal)

Black Market

 - Drugs
 - Pornography
 - Rare/protected species
 - Organized crime (mafia, gangs)

Heritage

 - Architectural preservation
 - Wilderness preservation
 - Monuments

Transportation

 - Roads & bridges (traffic control, cars/trucks/buses/bicycles/motorcycles...)
 - Waterways (canals, sluices, locks, ships & boats)
 - Ocean (docks, dredging, ships & boats)
 - Rail (iron rail, monorail, maglev)
 - Air Flight (air planes, radar, traffic control)
 - Space Flight (launch/recovery, radar, traffic control... space stations...)

And one more thing...

All of the INFRASTRUCTURE that supports everything above. Concrete/asphalt plants, makers of pencils, janitors, caterers, dog walkers, ditch diggers, environmental activists, manufacturing of all kinds (think TOOLS, and that's just the start).... The category of infrastructure is breathtakingly enormous. Go to Alibaba.com and browse. We live in a world of machines and stuff that's all but incomprehensible.

Remember, this was a simplification

And to be honest, it's a simplification to the degree that angels weep.


Some of the above categories are so broad that they needed a bit of insight. I'm going to name only a few examples. This list can literally be endless.

  • Services: nail salons/grooming, accountants, realtors, arts/crafts, car repair, yoga instructors, carpet layers, carpenters, consultants, psychologists, counselors.

  • Department retail: hardware, clothing, furniture, household goods, industrial goods, commercial support, almost anything you can find in a shopping mall.

  • Electronic services: games, social media, information exchange & processing, blogs, corporate/company contact.

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    $\begingroup$ Way to human and culturally (USA) biased, even for my own view of what a city is or should be. $\endgroup$ – Adrian Maire Jan 5 at 7:09
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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget garbage disposal, that's a pretty big one. $\endgroup$ – Nullman Jan 5 at 7:54
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    $\begingroup$ @AdrianMaire : Culture is a super category that can completely change the other things that need consideration, but it's better to have considered judicial process and decided your hereditary dictatorship doesn't need it than to not consider it at all. Are there any additions to this list that stem from other cultures you feel would be useful? $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Jan 5 at 9:31
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    $\begingroup$ @RebeccaGlaessner, you risk to have all versions of the same city type: western city with variants. IMHO, it's worth to step back and analyse WHAT moves to those types of categories: need of security/stability, nutrition, social (all related to some kind of instincts/sentiments). Then, you can decide about how is your alien civilization (what are their basics), then consider it environmental situation and derive to what city they would build. Think about teleportation technology, and how your alien civilization would organize differently, you can remove half of the categories and put others. $\endgroup$ – Adrian Maire Jan 6 at 8:26
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    $\begingroup$ Think how aviation changed the cities from being inside a wall with a castle, to something different. Currencies are needed because we are kind of selfish, ants/bees -like species would not need currencies, not banks, no shops, etc. What would they have instead? Where is your science and technology developed? Think about how this list is focused on economically-rewarded organisation, which is historically one of the least stable/long-term sustainable mechanism. (against e.g. faith-motivated society, or environmental autarky like old tribes) $\endgroup$ – Adrian Maire Jan 6 at 8:26
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JBH gave a long list of individual services. I think you're looking for something different?

In general, to support life, you need food, shelter, water, air, power and transport.

Power

For power and sufficiency, cover everything you can with solar panels. You'll probably need some power plants as well, so people have power at night, and because the panels might't be able to supply enough, depending on your aliens' power demands. Nuclear would be best, but they might have fusion which would make electricity VERY cheap. Of course, you'll plan your city so that high rise buildings aren't blocking solar panels too much.

You can make use of circumstantial power sources, like hydroelectric and the like, as ideally you will build cities next to such useful resources.

Food

This one is tricky, and depends on your tech. If they do have a lot of excess power, due to fusion and nuclear, you could potentially grow everything in plant factories in the city, which has huge potential for sufficiency and health, due to their minimal use of water and pesticides. Even then, generally it's cheaper to grow stuff in massive fields, since you can rely on the free energy of the sun and rain, so your aliens might want to consider traditional farming as well.

You could theoretically cover the roofs of buildings with vertical farms, which maximize sunlight and water use, though that could reduce the surface you have for solar panel arrays, so your people would need to balance out their needs carefully.

Transport

People need to be able to get around your city to fulfill their needs, or else all the services are pointless. You'll also want effective means of delivery.

You mentioned a design based off a village where you can walk to everything... and that's the basic model for European cities. Denmark has almost half the cars per capita of the US, with the UK and France only having a little more. These cities were made long before motor transport, so they were designed with walking distances in mind, and they developed good public transport systems.

In this case, your public transport might largely be trams, trains, and driverless cars. The latter could just be called the same as an Uber. You might also have drone copter cars, at this point, which would be more expensive and dangerous, but still a reasonable possibility.

And speaking of drones, they'd likely replace postmen for the majority of deliveries. If you have fusion power, you can basically make everything electric and cheap.

For long distance transport, you will need trucks and trains. Again, with fusion, everything is electric, so long as you have enough truckstops to power your batteries.

If you don't have fusion, you'd need quite a few nuclear plants to maintain that kind of electrical cost.

Air

Motor and factory fumes are the biggest concerns with air. With fusion, you can greatly reduce that, though some factories might still produce toxic fumes. They'd need to be kept away from the living areas, and maybe you can develop filters to prevent most of that junk going into the air.

Parks are important, for recreation, wellness of mind, and air quality. Of course, if you have many plant factories and vertical farms, air quality should be pretty good.

Shelter

If you want to avoid suburban sprawl, you're probably looking at somewhat minimalist apartments. The most efficient structure is about 3 or 4 stories tall, normally. If you have fusion, that could change things a lot, as it'd cost less to pump the water up several floors, and to run elevators.

But in general figure apartment building complexes that are surrounded by the necessary services, or even have those services built into the complex. After all, if you're going to put elevators in the place, you might as well use them for transport purposes, shifting people around a sort of shopping mall. That said, business areas need to be separated from living ones, by a fair margin, or else constant activity will make it hard for occupants to sleep.

Water

You of course need water treatment plants, and a good water source like a river. You could even use sea water, processing it into drinkable water like Israel is trying, especially if you have fusion.

You can also recycle the sewage of the city, using some of it for fertilizer and either sending the purified water out to sea, or directly pumping it back into the system (that happens).

Of course, since there are genetic issues to worry about, water treatment must be handled carefully. Fluoride, for example, has been condemned by the WHO as dangerous in drinking water since at least 2006, but the US didn't decrease it fluoride until 2015. Even now, their limit is about 4mg/L, which is a lot more than other countries. India's limit is 1.6mg/L, and they have many reverse osmosis plants to try and take the naturally occurring fluoride out of their water.

So, your aliens will have the same concerns, purifying their food and drinking water extensively, since the health of some of them and their children is in question.

I hope this was a useful overview for city design.

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    $\begingroup$ Resources: Intelligent entities tend to use resources for their purposes, making strategic places where either trading resources or resources extraction have an advantage. In case of competition, militar/defensive strategic places also have an impact. $\endgroup$ – Adrian Maire Jan 4 at 20:58
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    $\begingroup$ @AdrianMaire Good point. I probably could've mentioned the importance of resources, mined and otherwise. Thanks, Adrian. $\endgroup$ – Johnny Jan 4 at 21:44
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for this answer Johnny, upon the accepted answer it offers a lot of different ways to apply the accepted answer's considered factors and how each choice potentially impacts other choices. Though this list isn't as extensive as required, it will be useful. $\endgroup$ – Rebecca Glaessner Jan 4 at 22:23
  • $\begingroup$ @RebeccaGlaessner You're welcome. Glad it was helpful. $\endgroup$ – Johnny Jan 4 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ I personally prefer this answer because it's less human/culturally biased: On currently accepted answer, it assume a government like our (e.g. not working for ants-type civilization, or perfect anarchic organization; Food drink entertainment for aquatic civilization?; pharmaceutical as emergency is questionable; Porn/Drugs is black market only if illegal (not always the case); Is a plane useful in a civilization with teleportation? etc.. ) to summarize: very biased, even for human kind. $\endgroup$ – Adrian Maire Jan 5 at 7:08
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The first thing you must ask is: Why do cities exist? What functions do they serve? What are cities, really?

  • Obviously, an aggregation of people and their dwellings
  • Usually, an economic hub
  • Usually, a political hub
  • Usually, a cultural and educational hub.

In a free society people congregate in cities because they perceive economic, social and/or cultural opportunities there. If the city is the seat of a regional or federal government the connected administrative jobs are part of that.

This congregation of people, in a feedback loop, in turn fosters economic, social, cultural and political progress and development. Everything that is modern in our western societies emerged in cities. In the past it was safe to say: No city, no innovation.

Since your story is in the near future you will have to consider a development that the Corona virus crisis accelerated: Many of these political, economic, even cultural functions do not depend any longer on the physical proximity of people. Factories are automated, conversations, education, political debates and to a degree cultural events are moving online.

Are our future cities virtual cities? Is facebook, culturally, a city? Is Microsoft Teams an office? Since the physical-geographical connection between work, culture and politics is now severed: Will we all come together only with peers? Will the society continue its apparent path to disintegration?

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for this answer Peter, as above, though this answer does provide the beginnings of a system for considering factors that impact other factors and so on, as I develop my cities, it doesn't offer an insight into all aspects as the accepted answer does. However your suggestion to consider the changing interactions between individuals and entities towards less proximity based formats will be useful in developing my cities, as the accepted answer hadn't considered this. $\endgroup$ – Rebecca Glaessner Jan 4 at 22:30
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    $\begingroup$ "Is facebook, culturally, a city? Is Microsoft Teams an office?" Hopefully, people will understand the similarity in it full extend. (There are many offices and cities, and people like to move between them; can we really do that with FB?) $\endgroup$ – Adrian Maire Jan 5 at 7:20

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