What Fictional City (or Other Locale) Would You Most Like to Inhabit?

Rivendell, Who-ville, the Matrix, and more

Graham Roumieu / The Atlantic

Howard Shore, composer, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit

Rivendell, a Tolkien creation where the culture, wisdom, and lore of the Elves of the Elder Days were preserved. A timeless realm hidden in a valley, Rivendell was worldly, a treasury of Elrond’s good counsel.

Graham Roumieu

Witold Rybczynski, architect and author

Broadacre City. Most people now consider Frank Lloyd Wright’s sprawling arcadian vision to be an old man’s foible, but wouldn’t it be nice to find out for oneself? Anyway, who could resist living on a farmlet in one of his beautiful houses—with your own private gyrocopter in the driveway?

Mary Gaitskill, novelist

I would like to live in the London of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, because it is a gentle and lovely place without being insipid, where the most terrible things are linked with the most beautiful, and eccentric humor is the norm. A world like ours, only more delightful.

Tim Herlihy, screenwriter

Innisfree, the scenic Irish village where John Wayne retires in The Quiet Man, seems pretty cool. The people are cheerful and friendly and have a fairly nonjudgmental attitude vis-à-vis day drinking. Also, it’s apparently customary to receive some sort of payment for marrying Maureen O’Hara. But I could do without the brawling.

Terry Crews, actor

Dr. Seuss’s Who-ville. Every night there would be a feast and performances by different Whos, and we’d support their efforts instead of publicly shaming them. If the Grinch came and stole all our worldly possessions, we would know we could always make more, because we’d realize that how much money we have has nothing to do with wealth. The wealth is in our ideas!

Margaret Atwood, poet and novelist

The desirability of where you are depends on who you are. But the idyllic Paris of Henry James’s The Ambassadors would be very appealing so long as I could have an independent income, a pair of mauve gloves, a parasol, and a secret lover. Otherwise the metropolis of Blade Runner, if I could be a top-grade replicant.

Graham Roumieu

Chelsea Peretti, comedian

I would like to retire to the island from Lost, because it cures cancer and paralysis. In most cases. I think. I’m not sure I truly understood anything that happened on that island. If nothing else, I’d eat feral-boar meat and drink coconut water and wander around shouting “Walt!”

Colin Trevorrow, director, Jurassic World

A good city subverts your expectations until everything is upside-down and backwards. Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland is such a place: one that starts with hopes and dreams, then throws out gravity, logic, physics, and all the laws of our universe.

Edward Glaeser, economist

In Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, Terminus, the city founded by a farseeing social scientist, is a New Yorker’s fantasy—a place where bookish scholars, swashbuckling merchant princes, and canny urban politicians come together to save the universe and best their enemies, usually using IQ alone. Terminus is a place that spreads knowledge—the great task of all cities—and succeeds spectacularly in preserving humanity’s wisdom as the universe hurtles toward darkness.

Bruce Katz, Vice President, Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy and co-author, The Metropolitan Revolution

Venice, as imagined by Italo Calvino in Invisible Cities. Calvino conjures dozens of fantastical cities—one clogged with webs of string that delineate trade and family relationships, another filled with networks of canals and streets offering infinite routes. The result is a mesmerizing, intoxicating, often disturbing rumination on the cities we call home.

Sharon Zukin, author, Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places

I am both drawn to and repelled by “the neighborhood,” the steamy locale where Elena Ferrante’s trilogy of Neapolitan novels begins. Within the narrow boundaries of the stradale and the tenement courtyard, life is raw, and both the social and moral geography are strict and cruel.

Reader Responses

Chris Morrison, Marietta, Ohio

Gotham. The artistry, the architecture, the noir.

Norm Riggs, North Ferrisburgh, Vt.

Bedrock, so I could ride to work on a dinosaur.

Jim Donelon, St. Petersburg, Fla.


Deana Burke, Staatsburg, N.Y.

The Matrix. That is, if we don’t live there already.

Want to see your name on this page? E-mail bigquestion@theatlantic .com with your response to the question for our November issue: What science-fiction gadget would be most valuable in real life? And check out theatlantic.com/bigquestion to see how Kumail Nanjiani, Bruce Katz, and others answered this month’s question.