Suddenly Significant City
The elevating of the status of an existing locale beyond its current stature. Cleveland
becomes the US Capital, Tokyo
becomes the World Capital
becomes capital of the largest polity in the known galaxy, that sort of thing. The city may of course be very important today, but the transition gives it official political power on a stage above its current influence. At the other end, it can be a sleepy village that suddenly gains much larger stature.
The reasons for this vary. Sometimes, they just aren't given. Other times, other candidates for the position have been destroyed or invaded. Or perhaps they got lucky and economic conditions shifted their way.
Anime and Manga
- After Tokyo gets destroyed, the Japanese capital is moved to Fukuoka in Ghost in the Shell. While a major Japanese city in its own right, it doesn't have any of the fame of Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka.
- In the backstory of Legend of Galactic Heroes, Brisbane, Australia became the capital of the United Earth Government which was established after almost of a century of warfare that left much of the world devastated and practically all major cities destroyed.
- In Rahxephon. Apparently between 2012 and 2024 North Korea comes out of its shell and the Olympics are held in Pyongyang. Kabul hosts the 2028 games. Oh, and skateboarding is finally an Olympic sport.
- Radiator Springs in Cars. Goes from Dying Town to hot tourist spot after Lightning McQueen moves in.
- In Things To Come, Basra, Iraq is mentioned as the home base of the Airmen - and implied to be the new capital of the rebuilt united Earth.
- Chicago becomes the capital of the Solarian League in Honor Harrington, the largest (by a couple exponents) human polity in the explored galaxy.
- In The Door into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein, Denver becomes the capital of the US after a nuclear war that leaves most of the East Coast uninhabitable.
- Parodied in The Twelve Chairs: Ostap Bender proposes to organize an international chess competition in the small town of Vasyuki, which would attract famous chessmasters and revitalize the city. Eventually it would become the center of Europe, the whole world and the universe. Of course the whole scenario is just a plot to swindle some money from the residents.
- In Kenneth Oppel's Airborn series, Vancouver (or "Lionsgate City") has become the airship center of the world.
- In Harry Turtledove's In the Presence of Mine Enemies, Omaha, Nebraska is the capital of the U.S. due to the destruction of Washington, DC and a number of other major cities.
- In Worldwar the invading aliens destroy Washington DC with a nuclear bomb causing the US to shift its capital permanently to Little Rock, Arkansas.
- In the Future Boston sci-fi anthology, aliens somewhat arbitrarily decide that all their interstellar trade with Earth will take place in Boston, Massachusetts. While that would be a big deal by itself, a clever local government official negotiating with her alien counterpart establishes the local port authority as a city agency, rather than state, federal, or international.
- In Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake series St. Louis, Missouri has become the supernatural capital of the United States. What Creator Provincialism?
- In the Galactic Milieu series, the Remillard family somehow managed to successfully get Concord, NH to be designated as the capital of Earth. No explanation is given as to how they pulled that off, but it probably had something to do with Unifex remembering that this was the case when he first entered the Stable Time Loop that created the Milieu in the first place.
- In the 1632 series, Grantville, West Virginia, USA becomes the technological center of Europe after Alien Space Bats teleport it to 17th century Germany. Later in the series, Grantville remains significant as Europe's primary centre for research and education, as well as a state capital, but proves impractical for major infrastructure due to surrounding geography. The town of Magdeburg, Germany — rebuilt after a horrible sack of the city leaves it in ashes and rubble — becomes the capital of the new United States of Europe.
- In Gadsby, Branton Hills' population rises from two thousand to sixty thousand, and it becomes a full-fledged city rather than a town.
- After the Zombie Apocalypse in World War Z, Lhasa is the world's biggest city, and Havana the world's financial center.
- In the Distant Finale of The Handmaid's Tale, somehow Nunavut has become the academic center of the world.
- In Julian May's Galactic Milieu series, the capital of the Earth (and by extension, the entire Human Polity, containing dozens of worlds) winds up located in New Hampshire. Because that's where the aliens landed when they came to invite humanity into The Federation.
- Decades of Darkness: After Washington gets burned down by the British (twice), the *USA relocates the District of Columbia to Knoxville, Tennessee (which actually gets renamed Columbia). Meanwhile, Hartford, Connecticut becomes the capital of the Republic of New England.
- In the 1970s Buck Rogers in the 25th Century TV revival, "New Chicago" was the capital of Earth and its colonies.
- In Jericho Cheyenne, Wyoming and Columbus, Ohio become the capitals of what remains of the United States. Earlier contenders for the title included Sacramento, California; San Antonio, Texas; Cleveland, Ohio; Albany, New York; and Montgomery, Alabama. Most of the other major cities were destroyed in the series premiere.
- In Star Trek, San Francisco is the headquarters of Starfleet and Paris is the Capital of the Federation (in Enterprise, which takes place prior to the establishment of the Federation, San Francisco is the headquarters of the Earth Starfleet, and Paris the capital of the United Earth).
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine gives us a Suddenly Significant Planet, in the form of the titular station's nearby planet Bajor. Before, it was just a wholly uninteresting rock recently freed from a forced occupation. With the discovery of the nearby Bajoran Wormhole, it suddenly becomes one of the most rare and important areas in the entire galaxy. Suddenly, Bajor is the forefront of deep-space exploration, copious traffic, high-end research, and the first thing Dominion cruisers see as they enter the system to invade.
- An article in the Journal of Irreproducible Results hypothesized that accumulated issues of National Geographic could depress the North American crust enough to put many U.S. cities underwater, though some towns would actually prosper in this nightmare scenario: "Yazoo, Mississippi would become a major seaport; certainly a possibility that has not been dreamed of by town officials, even in their wildest imagination."
- In Wesley Willis's song I'm the Daddy of Rock And Roll, he informs the listener that "Back in 1991, I used to hit old people with folding chairs. Suddenly, I moved to the north side of Chicago, Illinois in the summer of 1992!"
- "'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'" (Matthew 2:6, citing Micah 5:2)
- Also Nazareth was just a tiny town of probably less than 500 people of dubious reputation until one former local started a movement that grew into one of the world's largest religions.
- Mecca was a fairly minor city in a very out-of-the-way region which suddenly became one of the world's most important places after a different former local started a movement that grew into another of the world's largest religions.
- In F-Zero: Maximum Velocity, a discovery of pure titanium had caused Bianca City to change from a small village to replacing Mute City as the center of galactic activity. All this in less than 40 years.
- In Little Worlds, Halifax (the city in Canada, not in the UK) is treated as though it were a much more urban of a center than it actually is.
- Gander, a small town in Newfoundland, became famous in September 11, 2001 when American airspace was shut down due to the terrorist attacks. Gander's airport was a designated emergency landing strip for inbound flights from Europe, but the sheer number of planes was never planned for so the small town was suddenly forced to accommodate thousands of displaced passengers until airspace was reopened.
- Note that Gander had gone from being a tiny fishing village to being the main hub for airplanes flying from North America to Europe during the 1950s, but with the development of planes with longer range it slipped back into obscurity.
- The moderately important city of Byzantium was refounded as Nova Roma by Constantine I in 330 and became the capital of the East Roman Empire under the name Constantinopolis. It was always geographically important (being on a strait), but it wasn't Capital-of-an-Empire important.
- New York City and Philadelphia were the major seats of political, cultural, and economic power during and immediately after The American Revolution. However, the southern state representatives insisted on a more centrally located capital, and a certain marshy site on the Potomac River that no one wanted (but happened to be close to where George Washington lived) was available. Thus we have Washington, DC.
- On July 20, 1847, there was almost nothing between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevada. On July 21, the first Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley. Within four years, it had become the capital of Deseret, a proposed state that stretched from the Rockies to the Pacific coast. Congress cut it down into the Utah Territory, but Salt Lake remained the biggest city in the region for decades until surpassed by such cities as Las Vegas and Phoenix.
- Las Vegas and Phoenix are examples themselves, having been one-horse podunk towns until gambling became legal in the former and air conditioning became widespread in the latter.
- Canberra was basically a rural district with a small population until 1908 when, because of politics (that is, being between archrivals Sydney and Melbourne), it became the capital city of Australia. It's now the 8th largest city in Australia and its own territory.
- Bonn, a small town in Germany (to quote the title of a John le Carré novel set there), was made capital of West Germany for this reason. Berlin was impossible (West Berlin was still theoretically occupied and was surrounded by East Germany besides), but the obvious candidates for capital (Frankfurt-am-Main and Cologne) were powerful enough to prevent the other from getting the job, but not quite powerful enough to get the job; so the job went to Bonn, which is roughly halfway between them. It also helped that Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, despite being from Cologne (having been its mayor during the Weimar Republic) had strong connections to the city (he studied and had family there). Since the government has moved back to Berlin after the end of the Cold War, Bonn is still the seat of some federal ministries and institutions, but not nearly as many as they used to have.
- For that matter, Berlin and Cölln, two small fishing villages on the Spree river, after slowly growing into a rural town, became the residence of the Margraves of Brandenburg, overtaking the old centre of Brandenburg on the Havel, then the chief residence of the Kings of Prussia, and in 1871 the new German capital.
- Ottawa was originally a backwater town that only existed because of the construction of Rideau Canal. It was incorporated as a city and given its current name two years before it would become the capital of Canada. It was chosen because it straddles the Ontario-Quebec border and its location made it more defensible from an American attack than the other major Canadian cities.
- Wellington was originally a minor planned settlement in the centre of New Zealand, with the seat of government in Auckland. That is, until 1865, when it was decided that the capital needed to be in a far more central location.
- Alexandria, Egypt which became a new center of Greek civilization after Alexander the Great founded it. Or rather, refounded it: it existed before (as the moderately-sized Egyptian port town Rakote), but he ordered a major expansion and its transformation into the Greek capital of Egypt. And then of course, he named it after himself.
- Tel Aviv was just a minor Jewish community near the mainly Palestinian port of Jaffa. In only a few decades, as more and more Jews came there after being persecuted elsewhere, it became the second largest city in Israel and one of the Mediterranean's economic hubs. Also, most international businesses and embassies are stationed in Tel Aviv instead of Jerusalem (Israel's original designated centrepiece city) for two reasons: first the practical reason of a lower risk of terrorism, and second the legal reason that international law regards the Israeli presence in Jerusalem as, if not illegitimate, then certainly pretty shady. (The US Congress passed a law in the mid 1990s requiring that the American Embassy be moved to Jerusalem, but allowed the President to delay the move if it would negatively impact US national security. Clinton, Bush, and Obama have all availed themselves of this option, although to be honest the high land values in Jerusalem—who knew that the city would become so expensive—might have as much to do with his as the political/legal concerns.)
- And, after most of the Palestinians left or were forced out around the time Israel was established, Tel Aviv basically swallowed what was left of Jaffa. It's reflected in the city's official name, Tel Aviv-Yafo.
- Nyenskans was a small Swedish border fort-town. It was located on a bit of territory that Sweden ceded to the rising Russian Empire, and Peter the Great decided to build his new capital on the place. That's how St.Petersburg came into being.
- Earlier in Russian history, Moscow was a quiet town belonging to the Vladimir-Suzdal principality. The Mongols came, the old fiefdoms deteriorated, and a Manipulative Bastard prince came to rule in Moscow. Then one of his successors kicks some Mongol butt. Suddenly Moscow is becoming more and more important until its last prince reunites the shattered fiefdoms and founds the Russian Czardom.
- During the industrial revolution a lot of small and formerly unimportant towns became large cities. Notable examples include Birmingham and Manchester in England, and Essen and most of the cities of the Ruhr valley in Germany.
- In the US, the same factors combined with western settlement turned Chicago, Detroit, and Pittsburgh from military outposts into major cities.
- In 1930 Aspen, Colorado, was an obscure former silver mining town deep in the mountains. Most of the silver had been extracted since its early boom years 40 years before, and people were leaving, so much that its population, once believed to have been over 10,000, was officially recorded as less than a thousand that year. Toward the end of that decade, some visionaries realized they could make money not from the shiny stuff in the mountains but the bright stuff on them, and began building a ski area. Since then it's not only rebounded but become a popular home away from home for many movie stars and corporate executives. Some individual properties are worth more than the entire town would have been in 1930.
- Aachen, an unimportant place with hot springs, became the home to Charlemagne's favourite palace in the late 8th century and as a consequence an important city, where the kings of the Holy Roman Empire were crowned until the 16th century. Then Frankfurt became the coronation city.
- Other towns and cities in the Holy Roman Empire that suddenly rose in status due to the favour of German kings and emperors were Goslar, Spire and Bamberg under the Saxons, Magdeburg under Otto I, Prague under the Luxemburgs, and Vienna under the Habsburgs.
- Munich, which eclipsed the older centre and Isar crossing of Freising due to the efforts of Duke Henry the Lion (who started by having the bridge in Freising burned down).
- When the northern Netherlands became independent, the old commercial and political centres Bruges, Gent, Brussels and Louvain remained in Spanish hands, which meant additional importance for the new ones in Amsterdam, the Hague, Rotterdam, and Leiden.
- When a group of discontented students left the University of Oxford to set up shop elsewhere, the small town of Cambridge quickly became Oxford's equal as a centre of learning.
- Wittenberg was a middling town in Saxony until a new university was founded there in 1502, and soon after that a certain Martin Luther was appointed one of the professors of theology there. Starting with October 31, 1517, the city then assumed significance for Germany and Europe as the centre of the Lutheran reformation.
- Mekka and Medina due to the rise of Islam.
- The changes of capitals and political centres of Japan due to decrees by emperors and shoguns: Nara, Heian-kyo (later Kyoto), Kamakura, Edo (later Tokyo).
- Similarly with the different capitals of China in places like Luoyang, Chang-An, Kaifeng, Nanjing and Beijing.
- And in Ancient Egypt, with Akhetaton as a notable example of a capital city that did not long survive its founder.
- The small town of Versailles, a small village around which Louis XIII liked to go hunting, became capital of France by the grace of Louis XIV until the French Revolution.
- The small spa town of Vichy of infamous memory between 1940 and 1944 was previously only well known outside of France (in France, the spas were famous) because a French chef in America had decided to name a cold vegetable soup after the town, not too far from where he was born. The Occupation puppet government elected the town for the numerous hotels (which could be made into ministries). Vichy became synonymous with Les Collaborateurs since then.
- A mining town tucked into the Wasatch Mountains of Utah was a backward, seedy place until its residents proposed to build a ski resort, which lifted its fortunes after the mines became unprofitable. But Park City became permanently if annually significant when the Utah/US Film Festival, soon renamed the Sundance Film Festival, moved there in a bid to attract interest to the American independent film industry.
- El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles del Rio de Porciúncula was, for a long time, a smallish former Spanish mission town. The discovery of oil nearby in the late nineteenth century brought the population over 100,000. With the beginnings of the motion picture industry, which needed a location with long daylight hours and warm, sunny weather, in the early twentieth century, the city now known simply as Los Angeles inexorably became a metropolis with a seven figure population.
- Within the state of Florida, this happened to two cities and one county over the course of the 1960s and '70s. Previously, the state had undergone a short-lived land boom in the 1920s, but the collapse of that during The Great Depression sank the state into an economic malaise.
- Until The Sixties, Miami was chiefly a base from the US Navy, but it received a massive influx of Cuban exiles after that country's revolution, causing it to replace Havana as the center of Caribbean finance and culture.
- Around the same time, Brevard County on the state's east coast went from a backwater to the heart of America's space program due to the fact that Cape Canaveral was practically perfect as far as being a launch site for spacecraft. A collection of sleepy fishing villages, tourist towns, and farms transformed into a center of high-tech industry, science, and engineering virtually overnight.
- Orlando, like Miami, was chiefly a military town from World War II through The Sixties, its citrus industry having long ago moved south after the Great Freeze of 1894-95 and its tourism and land booms likewise having been killed off by the Depression. Then Disney came to town in 1971...
- A Running Gag with the states ruled by the House of Savoy:
- Chambéry was a small town, even if strategically placed at a crossroad through trading routes between Dauphiné, Burgundy, Italy and the future Switzerland, when the Count of Savoy Amadeus V made the place his capital. It would grow of importance twice again, first when the Kingdom of Arles (from which Savoy depended) effectively ceased to exist in 1313 and Savoy gained Imperial immediacy (basically they had a say in the running of the Holy Roman Empire), and then in 1416 when Savoy was elevated to duchy;
- in 1563 Turin's days of glory seemed to be long past, especially with the Savoyan conquest, when duke Emmanuel Philibert, recognizing that Chambéry's vulnerability to France was a liability with their Hapsburg-friendly policy, moved the capital there. Turin's importance would later increase again, first in 1713, when duke Victor Amadeus II became a king (initially of Sicily, then exchanged in 1720 for Sardinia) and Turin became the capital (even if the titular capital of Sicily stayed in Palermo), and finally in 1860, when Sardinia expanded to the whole Italy and was replaced by the Kingdom of Italy (again, only in practice: the titular capital was Rome, then in control of the Pope, and the idea was to move the government there as soon as the Papal States could be conquered);
- by 1798 Cagliari, former capital of the Kingdom of Sardinia, had long lost its political importance. Then Revolutionary France invades and occupies the mainland territories, and Cagliari returns capital until 1814;
- by 1865 Florence had lost any kind of political importance, when, as part of a diplomatic manouver and proof that Italy had renounced to conquer Rome and what remained of the Papal States, the capital of Italy was moved there. It was doubly unexpected because the most important city of Italy after Turin was Naples (disqualified as the former capital of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, Sardinia's chief rival among the post-Napoleonic Italian states);
- subverted when the diplomatic manouver supposed to keep the Papal States independent failed and the capital was moved to Rome: everyone knew that Italy would have moved the capital there as soon as feasible, and in 1871, the year after Italy conquered the Papal States, Rome became capital of Italy;
- the small and unfortunately-named city of Brindisi (that's Italian for toast) briefly became capital of Italy from September 1943, when the Germans occupied Rome and most of the national territory after Italy switched sides during World War II, to June 1944, when the Allies retook the city and the government moved back in Rome;
- also during World War II, the Italian Social Republic (Mussolini's puppet state under German control) had its capital de jure in Rome, but the seat of government was in the small city of Salò (hence the state's nickname of "Republic of Salò") and the ministries were in the cities of Milan, Verona and Brescia and the nearby town of Gargagnano.