Urban planning in science fiction, part II

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This is the second of a 2-part post about the role cities play in Sa’adani thought and society.  That’s Sa’adani as in the human (but not Earth-human) culture of the eponymous Empire, the backdrop of my science fiction novels. You can see Part I of this “sustainable living in urban spaces” exploration here.


Sheo Evos – the Flourishing Communities


Picking from the best features of the past and melding these with the needs of contemporary life of his times (700 local years ago, in 405SR), Emperor Esimir IV mandated that Sa’adani cities should be chartered in accordance with the She’vos (pronounced SHAY-vohs, from “sheo evos”, Flourishing Communities) precepts laid out by Minister of the Left Lord Shay Lasmiric, a notable scholar and philosopher of his time.  The 25-year-long first She’vos Census which followed established which communities would be granted a She’vos charter, and which not. It was a coveted endorsement, since She’vos communities became eligible for certain imperial and planetary funding, significant tax breaks, and support not available to other communities.  Urban growth since then has been planned with an eye to the Flourishing Communities ideals and requirements. The She’vos Census is repeated once every 50 years, and is completed in 2 to 3 years empire-wide. This is more rapid because the first one established the basic ways and means, and because communication and travel speeds have improved significanty in ensuing centuries.

Today, the designation of “city” is not due only to size or economic prosperity, but happens because an urban area meets the She’vos requirements. Urban designations are as follows[1]:

Holding – 20 or fewer families (avg 50 population)
Village – 21 to 100 families (average 250-500 population)
Town – 1000 families or less (average 2500-5000 population)
She’vos City (chartered) 1000- 10,000 families (avg 10,000 – 25,000 population)
City (unchartered) 10,000-100,000 families (avg 40,000 small, 175,000 medium, 500,000 large)
Metropolis (avg 1-5 million)
Megalopolis (5 million+)


The She’vos Ideal


A She’vos City is a chartered city, larger than a town, but smaller than the densely populated, sprawling cities that can develop when humans and commerce agglomerate. It is small enough to be defensible in a finite area, and to be able to support itself with food grown on nearby lands.  In addition a She’vos city must have these features:

•  a ruling lord (of noble House or aristocratic caste)
•  a council of advisers (Darshari), appointed by the lord
•  a Sarit-Darshar, i.e., a citizen-adviser/representative to the council. Elected by local cailosi[2], the Sarit-Darshar has full advisory and (if/when appropriate) voting rights on the council, and generally gains a level of caste standing when elected to this position.

•  a Justiciar and Magistrate’s Office

•  a Foundation Temple (one with primary religious authority in the region: 3 lesser peer-level shrines, for instance, do not qualify) and associated Office of the Okami[3]

• a civil service office to administrate the affairs of the Empire and Throne locally.

• free schools and public education, including a Chamber of Arts and Letters and a Philosophers’ Atrium funded by the ruling Lord and Imperial grants (the Chamber is traditionally overseen by the Lady of the domain, if she is inclined to take up that charge. If not, she holds the appointment of the mastership). 

 The Chamber is automatically an affiliate of the Imperial Academy of Arts and Letters, and must follow curriculum guidelines set forth by the Academy,  just as the Atrium is a preparatory school for the Philosophers’ Retreat of the Lahaj[4].


Military Requirements

For military and defense purposes, a she’vos city is also expected to have:

•  1 company of regular standing militia, required to compete annually in imperially sponsored regional wargames. This is a city-sariti centered body, separate from and in addition to any household guards or troop levies mustered by the city’s liege lord. Its officers are typically members of the lord’s household or army. 

•  1 battalion of ready city militia reserves, able to be called up with 1 hour notice. They are expected to serve for civil defense and emergency purposes such as fire or flood, not only in military matters, and sometimes supplement police or watch forces (as during a large festival).  The local lord supports the cost of regular training for all militia units, aided by a warrior head tax authorized by the Emperor.

•  establishment and maintenance of a tensiu (‘city bastion’), a fortified city core, to include defensible walls, barricades, and sealable passageways  or portals. Defenses to be tested for functionality twice yearly and periodically upgraded to stay current with military technology.  

•  maintenance of food and water reserves against emergency or to withstand a month-long siege in the tensiu, under the assumption that the maximum possible city population has taken shelter within. This capacity is supposed to be tested bi-annually with a Retreat drill during the militia training period and spring holidays.


Public Services

To serve the public, the city must have:

•  public health and safety services (sewage, water, fire, watch), usually overseen by an officially appointed Guardian.

•  development and maintenance of renewable energy resources to meet city needs, as well as a secure and safe water supply.

•  a well furnished and accessible market square and market days twice weekly, or more frequently as needed.

• year-round storage capacity for staples (grain, dried fruits and meat) sufficient to carry the city population through a half-year long period of famine. (Capacity must be in place when a city is chartered; it has 3 years to accrue the supplies themselves but thereafter must maintain those supplies or risk losing the She’vos charter.)

• a dedicated slave market for debt discharge and immediate execution of judicial sentencing.[5]

•  regular maintenance of roads, riverways, canal locks etc within 1 days foot travel of the city

•  formal adherence to the imperial calendar as master list of festivals and holidays, in addition to whatever local occasions the lord and council deem should be honored as well.

•  city-sponsored Day of Return and Lost Week festivities and ritual for protection during those times.[6]

•  maintenance of funerary grounds outside the city but no farther than 1 hour journey on foot outside the outer city marker.

A city meeting these requirements may apply for and receive a she’vos charter.

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Because of benefits in taxation, subsidies, and imperial recognition, there is  considerable incentive for cities to maintain themselves at a sustainable size – the she’vos city size – along with the features that custom deems appropriate for this urban ideal.

Where geography permits, it is often the case that a growing city is actually reduced in size, a large part of the population sent forth with a scion of the ruling house to settle a neighboring region and grow a new city without overpopulating the old.  This often gives rise to cooperative urban networks of inter-related (and also blood-related) cities. It can also sometimes lead to settlement disputes known as She’vos wars where there is competition for physical living space. 


Losing the Charter

Cities that lose their charter usually do so because they have grown too large to be able to be truly self-sufficient, or to protect or evacuate all inhabitants in case of military action.  Larger cities nevertheless frequently maintain the features of the She’vos city in whole or part, for this model of the ideal city is well incorporated into the popular psyche and historical memory.  



1.  Reflecting the sensibilities of this clan-based society, settlements are fundamently thought of in terms of how many families may live there, rather than simply what numbers of individuals they may hold.

 2. A cailos is a guild-like economic and professional association.  Cailosi provide training, career opportunities, and long-term security in a variety of occupational areas.  They are a pervasive and essential element in the Sa’adani economy.

3.  The Okami help enforce community norms. They occupy a position of authority between the justiciat and the temples, and have a social policing role in society.  In some locations their authority is very real; in others it has become merely symbolic, although always well-spoken of in rhetoric.

4.  The Lahaji are the spiritual leaders of the Sa’adani elite. They are well-grounded in philosophy, are all certified psions, and follow a semi-aesthetic life akin to that of monks where it is expected they will attain some measure of wisdom, if not outright enlightenment.  

5.  Slavery is common in the Empire, primarily as a term-limited judicial punishment for debt or crime. Some persons may also sell themselves into slavery in order to support their families. Slaves rights are protected by law, and it is possible for most slaves to buy their freedom (under varying terms and conditions) if they wish to do so.  A Terran near-analog of this is the type of servitude common in ancient Rome.

6.  The Day of Return is the traditional equinox date upon which ancestral souls return to visit the physical plane of existence.  Lost Week is a span of extra days added periodically to the imperial year to adjust the calendar.

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