Thanks! Good question. I do a little bit of research for all the places in the Spindrift world (I keep moodsheets and such), but most of the design comes from developing the world. What type of area is it, what's the climate like, what kind of people live there and why, what do they do, what do they own, what technology do they have, how do they get around... if you start answering those questions a scene will sort of design itself in a way.
In this particular case: this city district is situated on the riverbeds of the city Brokers Vale. The riverbeds are partly flooded in spring, so people live on floats, raise their houses and or cover the base with a special mortar to keep the water out. People live here, because dryer & higher land within the city has become sparse and expensive. Because they are situated close to the inner city,the flooding districts are still desirable for some people to live in, people who would take their wares out to the cities markets over the river in the morning, or people who would use the river for their crafts (basket weavers for instance).. and so on .
When I know how an area works, I can draw it.