The Future

A Good Place: The fake town where everybody knows your name

With a population of over 87,000, Lower Duck Pond is the largest, friendliest, and oddest city that’s not on the map.
The Future

A Good Place: The fake town where everybody knows your name

With a population of over 87,000, Lower Duck Pond is the largest, friendliest, and oddest city that’s not on the map.

The internet is too much,
but this place is just right.

Located somewhere on a plane of nonexistence, the rapidly growing town of Lower Duck Pond rests, isolated, without even an official city map. Its locals don’t get lost, though. They know their way around quite well and discuss their comings and goings through postings on the subreddit r/HaveWeMet. The community’s 87,000-plus “residents” share constant chatter about which buildings in the area need repairs, which sandwich shops have been changing up their menu, and which streets need repaving.

It’s not unusual for newcomers to feel confused by the whirlwind of information and every resident’s seemingly picture-perfect memory of their surroundings. It helps to remember that they’re all pretending.

Strange, new places do take some getting used to and it might take you a few minutes to get the hang of subreddit r/HaveWeMet’s premise, where users roleplay as longtime neighbors in a non-existent town called “Lower Duck Pond.” The joke’s attracted over 87,000 users since the community started two years ago, making it the fastest-growing open-source fictional town on Earth. While the residents, streets, and buildings are fake, the absurdity, purity, and sense of community for its daily users has become very real.

Reddit user u/Devuluh, who’s really a sophomore computer science major named David (he declined to share his last name), started r/HaveWeMet in early 2017 when he was still in high school. The idea was to create an online space where everyone pretends to know each other. “The original idea for r/HaveWeMet was not a sub mimicking a fake town, but rather simply just people pretending to know each other, and later it evolved into much more than that,” David told me. “If you want to have a deep involvement in r/HaveWeMet, it’s almost necessary you get to know people’s characters. Some even go as far as getting to know the members behind their characters, too. It’s like one big universe created collaboratively, just through peoples’ interactions with each other.”

The subreddit’s users post believable stories or requests similar to outrageous postings you might see on your hometown’s Facebook page, but with a twist: someone might need help finding a lost cat or could be selling a single flip flop. Then others comment in a “yes and...” improv style that unfolds the stories even further and in different directions. There’s even a local weatherman, “John Levee” (a 22-year-old London man who posts under the name u/WanderCold), who updates the nonexistent weather every day to add realistic structure to the community-wide bit. The first day I visited Lower Duck Pond earlier this summer, it was terribly windy and the gust only got worse as the afternoon went on. “Somebody [will comment] on one of my weather posts about if there will be enough rain for her blueberries, so I, as John Levee, say yes, so she offers me some blueberries, and John Levee makes a pie with those blueberries and so on and so forth,” u/WanderCold said. “The way these conversations develop is one of my favorite things and [is] something truly unique.”

Sifting through the town’s constant updates, confusion starts to shift from the subreddit to understanding your own interest in being part of the inside joke. You start to realize you actually do care about news regarding the local milk shortage, that you are relieved when Councilman Everetts (aka u/ShavedPapaya) announces the milk prohibition is over, and that you want to play chess with your friend Abigail at the park. That is, until you remember that you actually don’t know how to get to the park at all.

Over on r/HaveWeMeta, an associated subreddit where users from r/HaveWeMet hold out-of-character discussions about the page, there’s been ongoing discussions about creating a map of Lower Duck Pond so newcomers can find their way around. A few users have made layouts for the town, while others argue the subreddit is better off without an official guide.

One user’s estimation of what Lower Duck Pond looks like.

One user’s estimation of what Lower Duck Pond looks like.

“Lower Duck Pond is best to exist in our imaginations to ensure that creativity is allowed to roam free,” u/Talenin2014 wrote in an r/HaveWeMeta discussion about a potential town map. David, the subreddit’s creator, also pointed out that the lack of detail helps promote inclusion for an online community whose real-life users come from across the globe. “Sticking Lower Duck Pond into a concrete location severely limits creativity, and people not from that location may feel less immersed or left out and they might not know much about that particular places’ culture or customs,” David said. “I also think it gives people a lot more freedom to form their own beliefs about how Lower Duck Pond is culturally.”

Though there are common landmarks that users unilaterally reference in their posts, from broad locations like “town hall” to “the university,” they’re broad enough to still make Lower Duck Pond open-ended and welcoming for its users. Everyone’s Lower Duck Pond is unique to them, but the generalities are similar enough that my Lower Duck Pond can still interact with yours.

There’s not much in terms of local ordinances other than a few small rules. Most of the subreddit’s guidelines simply ask that you stay in character, don’t break the illusion of the subreddit’s premise, and that you act like you know everyone you interact with, which leads to some wild conversations and make you feel like you’re eavesdropping at the local coffee shop. In early August when one user, who posts as a local game developer named “Frenchy,” shared concerns about their grandpa’s growing senility, a handful of other users began responding as if they knew him quite well. “I think it’s getting worse,” u/InfiniteArrival replied. “Just saw him riding a bicycle in his underwear down Maple St. heading towards the old vacuum repair shop.” Others even offered to go check in on him: “I’ll try stopping by after work,” u/mogis101 wrote. “Hopefully I’ll be able to bring leftovers for him.”

The friendly neighbor routine leads to heartwarming gestures that mirror the reality of close-knit small towns, where a resident might actually offer to give away newborn bunnies to their neighbors (unlike the ones from Lower Duck Pond, however, they probably wouldn’t be currently living in a hat). Despite the absence of an actual rabbit transaction here, correspondences like these have a way of making you feel warm and fuzzy all the same.

Lower Duck Pond isn’t a utopia, though. Things can get bizarre, supernatural, and even sinister. Earlier this year, a local murder shook the town and as the subreddit’s gained popularity, an influx of new users have messed with its belovedly dull consistency with posts about occult activities starting to pop up — some slyly hinting at a mysteriously reimagined origin story for the town. Already one of the weirdest places on Reddit, Lower Duck Pond only seems to get weirder by the day.

The more you scroll through the discussions on r/HaveWeMet, the less you come to know about Lower Duck Pond itself. It’s a place to bask in the pleasantly unfamiliar — in this sense, it’s the polar opposite of real-life neighborhood apps. But in Lower Duck Pond, everyone gets along. It’s even part of the rules. Every post is a grab bag of bland insanity and every comment is another layer of a common story being told for no purpose other than the joke that there’s no purpose here to begin with. Your best shot at understanding Lower Duck Pond might actually be logging on, turning off your brain, and losing all sense of worry — something no other neighborhood app can possibly achieve.

“It was, and still is, a form of escape for me,” David said. “[It’s] a little world separate from my own where I can just immerse myself to get away from the daily routine every now-and-then.” While the real world grows more divided and complicated by the day, Lower Duck Pond has gone from one Reddit user’s stupid joke to an internet escape where everyone’s your friend.

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Sean Neumann is a writer and musician living in Chicago.