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“Inevitable Cities” of the West Coast?

varyar

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Hello all,

I’m in the early stages of planning an alternate history map where imperial China colonizes the West Coast of North America in The Past. (I know the entire premise is unlikely, given China’s historical continental focus, but roll with it, please!)

That got me wondering what spots along the coast are pretty much inevitably going to see cities sprout up? I imagine you’ll see something in the Bay Area, for instance, but where else? Seattle or Vancouver? Los Angeles? San Diego? My knowledge of Pacific Coast geography is pretty weak. Help!
 

Walpurgisnacht

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LA exists where it is because it was a relatively fertile area and near a river, so a good place to found a mission. Hence it'll probably be settled, but it only became a city OTL off the back of finding oil there in the 1890s, so it'd be a backwater until people want crude.

As for the broader Salish Sea complex, you'd probably see something founded there. There'd almost certainly be a settlement around what's now Victoria, BC, out of a need to control the main entrance to Puget Sound. There are other harbours besides Elliot Bay, though, if you don't want to recreate Seattle--Commencement Bay (which Tacoma is built on) and Port Madison Bay on the other side of the Sound could work.

Paging @BClick here, since he certainly knows more about this than I do.
 

Wolfram

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LA exists where it is because it was a relatively fertile area and near a river, so a good place to found a mission. Hence it'll probably be settled, but it only became a city OTL off the back of finding oil there in the 1890s, so it'd be a backwater until people want crude.
If Los Angeles doesn’t get the Owens Valley water it got OTL, that’s also going to be a pretty substantial constraint on growth.
 

Gryphon

oh no
Any significant port, river ford, river outlet0 fertile plain, etc will usually see some type of city, as we see in OTL across basically everywhere with significant human habitation. Major cities, though, often depend on a combination of definition (probably the biggest factor tbh- what that means is subjective and contextual; a major city in 1835 is very different from a major city in 1995), location, and policy (in a very broadly defined sense- the fact that Vancouver and Seattle are both major prominent cities near to each other owes quite a bit to the boundary line between them, and San Francisco and Los Angeles were involved in various city/county level decisions in the 30s, 40s, and 50s that heavily affected their relative prominence today).

That said, San Francisco and San Diego are pretty much optimal locations for major ports. Something will almost certainly crop up in the Puget Sound/Strait of Georgia area, though where is an open question- Tacoma, Bellingham, Everett, Olympia, Seattle, Bremerton, several locations on the Fraser River that have mostly been subsumed into the Vancouver metro and to an extent Victoria all have advantages, disadvantages, and historical quirks that could have put them on level with OTL Vancouver or Seattle. Additionally, the Columbia River will almost certainly have something- depending on the direction of settlement and how much engineering you're willing to do, Portland/Vancouver, Kelso/Longview, and Astoria/Ilwaco are all good candidates, and the Dalles and Tri-Cities are plausible as regional hubs though I'd struggle a little to see them be *the* city instead of *a* city. Similarly, Spokane, Sacramento, Oakland, and LA are in good places to become interesting cities, though not necessarily striking ones.
 

varyar

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Thanks, all. I have a tentative list of some cities for potential inclusion. Feel free to offer alternatives and additions, especially for Tier 2.

Tier 1

San Francisco
Victoria, BC (in addition to or perhaps replacing Vancouver?)
Port Madison, Washington (replacing Seattle)
Vancouver, Washington (replacing Portland)
Stockton, California

Tier 2

Astoria
Spokane
Sacramento
Oakland
Los Angeles
Ensenada, Mexico
La Paz, Mexico (these last because I didn't want Baja California to be completely empty of major cities)
 

Francisco Cojuanco

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LA exists where it is because it was a relatively fertile area and near a river, so a good place to found a mission. Hence it'll probably be settled, but it only became a city OTL off the back of finding oil there in the 1890s, so it'd be a backwater until people want crude.
Los Angeles as a settlement isn't a mission per se as a supply point for the Missions.

However, at best it's likely to be a provincial city until oil is found and it's deemed worth extracting, correct.
 

Roger II

Well-known member
Also-I'd assume that 1) Chinese colonization of the interior is slower than US colonization of the interior because the Rockies and Sierra Nevada are a much more difficult barrier to transportation than the Appalachians and 2) as a result it will be much harder to export water from the interior. I strongly suspect as a result that there will be more population concentration in the PNW/Norcal area.
 

SinghSong

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BTW, this might also be worth exploring, for a scenario involving large-scale Imperial Chinese colonization of the West Coast of North America:


This long and rich vein of jade deposits, aka as 'The Nephrite Jade Road', comprise the largest, and some of the best quality, deposits of nephrite jade in the world. And most of this is located in the watershed of the Fraser River; the longest river within British Columbia, Canada, which rises at Fraser Pass near Blackrock Mountain in the Rocky Mountains and flows for 1,375km into the Strait of Georgia, just south of the City of Vancouver. There are several islands in the Fraser River Delta, with the largest of these, Lulu Island, being divided between the cities of Richmond and New Westminster. So I'd argue that Greater Vancouver would actually be a lot more likely to be a major port city in this scenario than IOTL, with controlling the Strait of Georgia being a higher priority for the Chinese colonials than controlling the Puget Sound- though the Puget Sound region would probably also see large-scale settlement, predominantly for agricultural production in the early stages.

In California itself, the largest masses of jadeite can be found in the Saint Lucia Mountains, going inland from the aptly named Jade Cove on the Central Coast (but isn't mined commercially, since it's a strict conservation area covered by the Big Sur Local Coastal Plan. This is mostly concentrated in the county of San Benito, with the San Benito Valley accessible to both Monterey Bay (via the Pajara River, making the site of OTL's Monterey another good candidate) and San Francisco Bay. And some of the largest nephrite (as opposed to jadeite) jade deposits can be found across Wyoming, but predominantly in the Granite Mountains region, with Wyoming apple green nephrite jade renowned as some of the finest nephrite jade in the world.


To the West of the Great Continental Divide, this is accessible from the sea via the Green River and Snake River, which respectively form the largest tributaries of the Colorado River (which flows into the Gulf of California between Baja California and Sonora) and Columbia River (which forms most of the boundary between the US States of Washington and Oregon, with the port city of Astoria situated on its southern shore close to the mouth of the river- which is also the largest river by discharge flowing into the Pacific from the Americas, and prior to being dammed, was one of the 10 largest in the world by outflow, on a par with the Yangtze River in China).

So this provides a significant boost to Astoria's credentials; or perhaps, given the greater prioritization on colonization north of the Columbia River, in Western Washington, another city on the opposite northern bank of the Columbia River instead? If you want a candidate out of center-field, how about Cathlamet, in Wahkiakum County- which was the largest village of the Native Columbia River Indians west of the Cascade Mountains, with a larger reported population at first contact than it has today, and the home of the now effectively extinct Kathlamet people? Sure, it may be the second-least populous county in Washington today IOTL, with fewer than 4,000 people; but perhaps ITTL, with the jade deposits to the north (and rich silver deposits further inland, found in abundance in the interiors of Washington and British Columbia, as well as in Idaho and Nevada) prized more by the Chinese than the gold deposits to the south, things might be very different in that regard?

So, looking at Chinese colonization of the interior; I'd argue that the Columbia River Basin would be the likeliest candidate to be the center of Imperial Chinese population in this scenario, in a manner akin to the Yangtze, Yellow and Pearl River Basins back in China (with the Yellow River in particular serving as a fairly good analogy, with the northern section of the Columbia River comparable to the Upper Ordos). And its valleys are definitely the easiest and clearest path to facilitate Chinese colonization of the inland Northwest, all the way to the Rocky Mountains.



The Spokane River Valley's also definitely worth a mention, with the Coeur d'Alene Mining District in the Idaho Panhandle also known as 'Silver Valley' for a reason. IOTL, the Spokane–Coeur d'Alene combined metropolitan area's the economic and cultural center of the Inland Northwest; you'd imagine that it would be ITTL as well. And further downstream, the Cowlitz, Lewis, Willamette, Deschutes (originally known by the Native American name Towarnehiooks), John Day (originally known as the Mah-Hah by the native Cayuse people) and Yakimi River Valleys could also all well host Tier 2/3 cities.
 
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varyar

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Thanks again for the ideas - now I'm tempted to focus on the Columbia River and have an Isabella Bird style narrative as, um, Constance Finch, yeah, that's it... travels from "Astoria" up into the rural, mountainous upper reaches of the river. (Tangent - what might a Chinese transliteration of Wimahl be? Wemali?)
 
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Coiler

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(Tangent - what might a Chinese transliteration of Wimahl be? Wemali?)
If worse comes to worse, it could get its own alternate-language name, the equivalent of the English "Columbia" (after all, it's called that and not the Wimahl River despite many other places keeping their native language names).
 

Delta Force

Active member
It would be difficult to develop the West Coast of the United States if development starts from the West instead of the East.

The East has much easier access to coal and iron than the West because so much of the production is concentrated around the Great Lakes region or can otherwise be brought in directly through barges or at least trains operating in a far less mountainous environment. Most of the mineral resources in the West are deeper in the interior in places such as Nevada, Utah, etc. Those are all either in or beyond mountain ranges. The West is also somewhat energy limited due to the lack of fossil fuels, which will limit long term economic competitiveness.

California lacks stable water resources and was only able to grow by taking water from Northern California and neighboring states. There is almost no coal production in California and even historically it was very limited (source). It benefits from hydroelectricity from neighboring states, especially from the Pacific DC Intertie. The hydroelectric power system in the Western United States is sprawling, and it comes not just from the Pacific Northwest but also from Idaho and Montana (source).

The Pacific Northwest has river systems suitable for agriculture and hydroelectricity, but it only has coal resources of regional significance. At one point Coos Bay was a major supplier of coal to California (source), while the largest coal mine in Washington was exclusively used to supply a nearby coal fired power station (Centralia). Both coal mines are no longer operational because the reserves aren't economically competitive.

The resource deficiencies on the West Coast are a major reason why the region experienced relatively slow population growth until the 1930s. Once the hydroelectric systems started coming online there was a rapid growth in population and industrialization. The Pacific Northwest was home to many of the technology company equivalents of the era, playing a major role in the development of mechanical and electrical engineering and later aviation and nuclear technology. Although they are mostly gone now, Henry Kaiser built major shipyards in the area during World War II and there were major aluminum plants set up to take advantage of the cheap hydroelectricity. As the region began to outgrow sources of cheap hydroelectricity in the 1980s it began to deindustrialize and transition to a more service based economy.
 

varyar

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This is still simmering in my brainpan and I've got the skeleton of an idea for a Chinese Pacific Coast province, at least. All things are subject to change, and just because a city doesn't make the list of prefecture capitals doesn't mean it's not large or important. Look at US state capitals and you'll see a lot of second or third rate cities among them (e.g. Albany vs Buffalo New York City).

金山省 Jinshansheng Gold Mountain Province (using the traditional Chinese name for California is easy and by easy I mean lazy - I might go with the excellent posts by @SinghSong and use something based on jade instead, with the provincial capital in the PNW)

Prefectures, get yer red-hot prefectures here...

1 - Vancouver Island - Victoria
2 - Washington - Port Madison
3 - Washington/Oregon 1 - Astoria
4 - Washington/Oregon 2 - Tri-Cities, Washington
5 - Oregon/California 1 - Humboldt Bay?
6 - northern California - Bay Area
7 - central California - something in the San Joaquin valley?
8 - central-southern California - likewise, or maybe the Los Angeles area?
9 - San Diego down through Baja - San Diego
 

Coiler

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5 - Oregon/California 1 - Humboldt Bay?
I like this, just for the contrast with OTL. Don't know the physical limiters (which are almost certainly there), but I like the concept of OTL Northern California/Eureka being significantly more populous than OTL.

I also like the idea of "Los Angeles" being nothing but this medium industrial city with a bunch of ugly, hastily set up block-buildings that's only home to and cared about by oil workers and those in immediate downstream industries (ie, chemicals, refining, etc...) Also a big contrast from OTL.
 

varyar

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Incoming machine translation!

豐玉省 Fengyusheng Abundant Jade Province

Prefectures

虎鯨 Hujing (Killer Whale) - Vancouver Island - Victoria
吳东 Wudong (Eastern Wu) - Washington - Port Madison
海東 Haidong (East of the Sea) - Washington/Oregon 1 - Astoria
支努干 Zhinugan (Chinook)- Washington/Oregon 2 - Tri-Cities, Washington
隐湾 Yinwan (Hidden Bay) - Oregon/California 1 - Humboldt Bay
海獺湾 Haitawan (Sea Otter Bay) - northern California - Bay Area
葡萄谷 Putaogu (Grape Valley) - central California - Stockton
南谷 Nangu (South of the Valley) - central-southern California - Los Angeles
大爪 Dazhao (Great Claw) - San Diego down through Baja - San Diego
 

BClick

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As far as my neck of the woods - Astoria might make sense as an initial landing point and site of first settlement while the Chinese figure out how to cross the Columbia Bar into the interior. The bar is still one of the world's most dangerous navigational hazards and is the primary reason Puget Sound is more heavily populated and developed than the Portland area, despite the latter's closer proximity to most export resources.

But - they're going to figure out the bar eventually, and once they do it's going to make more sense to put down roots directly on the edge of the resources they're trying to exploit. (Astoria just kind of clings to the edge of the Coast Range and is relatively isolated.) Portland's location on a major river confluence and at the mouth of the Willamette Valley, one of the most productive agricultural regions in North America, is a pretty logical spot for a major city - not inevitable but hard to avoid. Of course you don't need to be completely convergent. The wide plain on which OTL's Vancouver WA sits could be the site of the metropolis, or it could be at OTL's Oregon City, which is the head of navigation on the Willamette and was the primary focus of early settlement.

Tri-Cities or The Dalles definitely make sense as the main cities of the interior, if development is moving west to east.
 

varyar

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As far as my neck of the woods - Astoria might make sense as an initial landing point and site of first settlement while the Chinese figure out how to cross the Columbia Bar into the interior. The bar is still one of the world's most dangerous navigational hazards and is the primary reason Puget Sound is more heavily populated and developed than the Portland area, despite the latter's closer proximity to most export resources.

But - they're going to figure out the bar eventually, and once they do it's going to make more sense to put down roots directly on the edge of the resources they're trying to exploit. (Astoria just kind of clings to the edge of the Coast Range and is relatively isolated.) Portland's location on a major river confluence and at the mouth of the Willamette Valley, one of the most productive agricultural regions in North America, is a pretty logical spot for a major city - not inevitable but hard to avoid. Of course you don't need to be completely convergent. The wide plain on which OTL's Vancouver WA sits could be the site of the metropolis, or it could be at OTL's Oregon City, which is the head of navigation on the Willamette and was the primary focus of early settlement.

Tri-Cities or The Dalles definitely make sense as the main cities of the interior, if development is moving west to east.
This is very helpful! You can only glean so much from looking at Google Maps and Wikipedia. I'm leaning towards Vancouver WA (龜峡 Guixia (Turtle Gorge)) as the Portland counterpart.
 

varyar

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The great work (?) continues... In this installment, I got lazy and used several city names from ancient China or transliterated Native American names.

Tier 1 cities

天湾 Tianwan (Heavenly Bay) - Santa Clara
神京 Shenjing (Divine Capital) - Victoria, BC
薩利磯 Saliji (Salish Rock) Suquamish, Washington
龜峡 Guixia (Turtle Gorge) Vancouver, Washington
北谷 Beigu (North Valley) Stockton, California

Tier 2 cities

鄴 Ye - San Francisco
啊晚一 Awanyi (Awani-wi) - San Rafael
玉口 Yukou (Jade Mouth) - Astoria
斯波坎 Sibokan - Spokane
間河 Jianhe (Between Rivers) Sacramento

Oakland
Tri-Cities
隐湾 Yinwan (Hidden Bay) - Humboldt Bay
San Diego
譙 Qiao - Los Angeles

廣陵 Guangling - Ensenada, Mexico
睦灣 Muwan (Tranquil Bay) - La Paz, Mexico
something in Northern California
something in Oregon
something in Washington

something in Washington
桑吉 Sangji (Songhee) - Sooke, BC
壽春 Shouchun - Port Orchard
西海 Xihai - Tacoma
Olympia

歷陽 Liyang - Aberdeen
Hood River
蒲坂 Puban - Salem
濟陽 Jiyang - Albany
氣饭 Qifan - Eugene

雞澤 Jize - Roseburg
沙斯塔 Shasita (Shasta) - Grants Pass
朏滩 Feitan (Crescent Beach) - Crescent City
零陵 Lingling - Klamath
Santa Cruz

Marina
Pismo Beach
Santa Barbara
 
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