Did you have model toys of cities when you were young? Did you have SimCity the computer game? First developed in 1989 this game became a bestseller as “planners” created a city from a postage stamp of land. The Los Angeles Times’ Jessica Roy reviews the SimCity game that is (gasp) thirty years old this year.
I have previously written about Super City, a previous generation’s interlocking block toy released by Ideal Toy in 1967 that allowed kids of all ages to create their own cities. Unfortunately the toy was too complex for children, and the product was pulled from the market. Artist and author Douglas Coupland said that “anything made from Super City looked like a Craig Ellwood, or a Neutra or a Wallace K. Harrison“. But every kid that saw the commercial below wanted a Super City set.
Ms. Roy takes a novel approach in this article at looking at SimCity and the real life of activists, urban planners and architects in asking whether this game influenced their choice of professions.
SimCity “introduced millions of players to the joys and frustrations of zoning, street grids and infrastructure funding — and influenced a generation of people who plan cities for a living. For many urban and transit planners, architects, government officials and activists, “SimCity” was their first taste of running a city. It was the first time they realized that neighborhoods, towns and cities were things that were planned, and that it was someone’s job to decide where streets, schools, bus stops and stores were supposed to go.”
One of the people Ms. Roy interviewed was Jarrett Walker of the renown Human Transit blog. While Jarrett works in public transit design and policy, he has also written posts suggesting that SimCity may have been a good introduction to city making, but it lacked depth, especially around transit and transportation issues.
Jarrett observes “the vast majority of players, whose exposure to city planning begins and ends with the game, might come to think “SimCity’s” approach is the only way to build a city. By masking the real-world effect of car-oriented transit and only allowing single-use zoning, he said, “SimCity” veers from entertainment into ideology.”
Today there are also issues that were not considered in the game~density, sustainability, and equity are a few. Of course solutions to city challenges are also not binary~you just can’t reduce crime by creating new police depots. While the game does provide “a very fundamental literacy in systems” it is just that.
Here is a YouTube video of a City Planner who grew up playing SimCity who has produced a video on how he would build a city with the 2000 version of the game. Be warned, even though it has 1.5 million views, it is over thirty minutes long.