Urban Design, Urban geography and Green utility vs the City Budget. A #CitiesSkylines Lesson

Rethinking our low and medium density suburbs


This appeared originally at LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/urban-design-geography-green-utility-vs-city-budget-ben-ross/


Cities Skylines (the urban simulator from Paradox – Colossal Order) has from time to time provided some lessons real life cities could learn from. Before I go into it if you think Cities Skylines is simplistic I ask you try it out first, the amount of complaints in the forums of the game being “too hard” does show perhaps not everyone is a Geographer or City Planner, game or real life.

In any case a recent article from The New York Times illustrated what they call the future of suburbia. You can see the article here: The Suburb of the Future, Almost Here

The slug line being:

Millennials want a different kind of suburban development that is smart, efficient and sustainable.


The premise is that grids are good and cu-de-sacs are bad still ring true in Urban Geography and Planning circles. HOWEVER, when it comes to utility in this case Green utility the conventional grid pattern might come at a disadvantage.


From that New York Times piece as a starting context:

Green utility grid
Source: NYT – https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/15/sunday-review/future-suburb-millennials.html?lipi=urn%3Ali%3Apage%3Ad_flagship3_pulse_read%3BvP%2BwHXxoTKWPXOAOY7IKjw%3D%3D#


Existing suburbs were developed to maximize house and lot sizes, and some are often locked into aesthetic compliance, like mowed lawns. These communities were also built around cars. Many residential developments offer small parks or playgrounds within walking distance, but require cars to get to bigger recreation areas.

Source: The Suburb of the Future, Almost Here



Green utility circle


In sustainable new suburbs, house and lot sizes are smaller — in part because driveways and garages are eliminated — paving is reduced up to 50 percent and landscapes are more flexible. The plant-to-pavement ratio of today’s suburb is much higher than that of cities, but the next generation of suburbs can be even better at absorbing water.


Source: The Suburb of the Future, Almost Here



Green utility smarter landscape
Source: New York Times


The neighborhoods will be friendlier for pedestrians, with sidewalks and paths that connect to open spaces and communal areas. Before we had fenced-off backyards. In the future we’ll have common recreation spaces or vegetable gardens. Or they can be designed for shared landscape features like forest, vernal ponds or wetlands that help manage storm runoff and control flooding.

Climate change has resulted in heavier rainfall when storms do come, and there’s a need to store all of this water to prevent catastrophic urban flooding. Less pavement in suburbia means the ground absorbs more rain and snow and less storm water pours into heavily paved urban areas nearby.

Source: The Suburb of the Future, Almost Here


Now for Cities Skylines to come in

Below is a Twitter thread I did in reply to the above NYT piece and when it comes to Green utility verses the City Budget; Here is two different Green district class suburbs in San Solaria City, one new the other relatively new: #citiesskylines



Those three are from Underhill Heights. The next one is from Solarian Bend:



Both are Green districts and have the same Green policies:

  • Self Reliant residential buildings
  • Locally and organically produce for the commercial zone
  • EV Cars for residents in the district
  • Internal Combustion engine ban except for Civic traffic
  • Encourage biking
  • Recreational Drug Use allowed



Both LOTS of urban street trees + shared spaces that have retractable bollards:

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And of course free yoga gardens provided by the City for all:

City Yoga Gardens


But there is a difference between the two areas of the same City:

Solarian Bend is quite grid like and to be honest EWWWWW in urban design despite the most efficient urban development layout. The other is more circular and thus we get gaps and holes in the middle. Thinking back to NYT piece the circular streets in Underhill Heights and holes in the middle from those big but connected community parks without costing the City a pretty penny in the Parks budget. Mr Grid aka Solarian Bend does not have this and is reliant on formal parks.

This means its going to cost me – aka the City Budget coin.

The holes in the middle while grass with some trees for now are big enough for that tiny laneway road and a community building like pools, gyms or dog parks that came with the Green Cities DLC.

In the end it comes down to utility and max bang for City buck. Mr Grid gives me the most urban development bang for buck but by god for recreational utility and urban design it is FUGLY. The circular streets while not efficient per se urban development wise do offer maximum recreational and environmental utility at less monetary cost to the City (except the bloody pesky forest fires the game likes springing on me).

Conclusion? A healthier green city (I compensate the urban form with high density developments near transit stations).


Underhill Heights and Laytonville Heights. Both Green districts


So then can a simple change in urban form and some game play from Cities Skylines offer alternatives to get best Green utility bang for buck while not sinking the often depleted City Budget?