Cutting My Urban Geography Teeth with SimCity and its Successor #CitiesSkylines

Urban simulator sparked a generation of planners, geographers and critics

While my friends were caught up in Starcraft, World of Warcraft, and Counter Strike (they could never beat me in Command and Conquer Red Alert if they did not overrun my base inside 7 minutes) I was caught up in the world of Sim City.

Starting with SimCity 2000 (the Tax guy was a pain in the arse) and progressing until Sim City 4 I would spend countless hours trying different urban geographies in building my cities. As Maxis was absorbed by EA the urban simulator market had its moments with various titles until Paradox released what is now the natural successor of SimCity; Cities Skylines.

I saw this article from L.A Times in how SimCity inspired a generation of planners, designers and geographers:

From video game to day job: How ‘SimCity’ inspired a generation of city planners

By JESSICA ROYMAR 05, 2019 | 5:00 AM  

From video game to day job: How ‘SimCity’ inspired a generation of city planners
A scene from “SimCity 4 Deluxe.” (Maxis)

Jason Baker was studying political science at UC Davis when he got his hands on “SimCity.” He took a careful approach to the computer game.

“I was not one of the players who enjoyed Godzilla running through your city and destroying it. I enjoyed making my city run well.”

This conscientious approach gave him a boost in a class on local government. Instead of writing a term paper about three different models for how cities can develop, Baker proposed building three scenarios in “SimCity,” then letting the game run on its own and writing about how his virtual cities fared.

He ended up getting an A. Playing “SimCity,” Baker said, “helped remind me of the importance of local government, which is what I ended up doing for a living.”

Today, Baker is the vice president of transportation and housing at the nonprofit Silicon Valley Leadership Group. He served as a council member in Campbell, Calif., from 2008 to 2016, a tenure that included two stints as mayor.

Thirty years ago, Maxis released “SimCity” for Mac and Amiga. It was succeeded by “SimCity 2000” in 1993, “SimCity 3000” in 1999, “SimCity 4” in 2003, a version for the Nintendo DS in 2007, “SimCity: BuildIt” in 2013 and an app launched in 2014.

Along the way, the games have 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.

Bitten by the city-building bug

“I used to draw maps of cities for fun. I had no idea it was an actual career,” said Nicole Payne, now a program official for the National Assn. of City Transportation Officials in New York City. When she was 10, a librarian saw her drawings and told her there was a video game she should try.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without ‘SimCity,’” she said.

Source: From video game to day job: How ‘SimCity’ inspired a generation of city planners

SimCity 4 was the last of the SimCities and was allowed to be modded to a limited extent (Maxis would not release the hard-coded .exe files). However, as acknowledged in the above article even SC4 modded was limited to American-centric urban geographies – something not corrected until 2015 with Cities Skylines.

With Cities Skylines and its DLC’s came out the dynamics of urban simulators changed significantly. If you thought SimCity was hard Cities Skylines challenged even season planners and geographers and still does – especially when Mods like Traffic Management, Real Life, and Transport Lines Manager is added.

None-the-less it would be SimCity and later Cities Skylines that would help me hone in what would become my niche: Urban Geography.

There are limitations such as lack of Mixed Use developments and wider social problems that is a given (and I wonder if it could ever be simulated by a game engine in the near future). Transit and Active modes as the urban simulators evolved have gotten better just as cities also evolve.

If you go to Ben’s Cities – my sister blog where I post Cities Skyline stuff you can see how transit and active modes can be very easily handled inside an urban area. I do like my bike boulevards, shared spaces and pedestrian/transit malls as well as the tiny lane-ways in my cities. They looks just that good (as well as discouraging cars).

In cutting my teeth with SimCity and Cities Skylines I have also experimented with different urban geographies both at Macro and Micro level and they do translate into documents and submissions later for real life cities later on.

Finally one thing Cities Skylines allowed that SimCity never did at that was dropping to first person level and literally spending half a day walking through your city or even catching a train. My BadPeanut Gives #CitiesSkylines the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I Oblige and Build the Manukau River Bridge gives an example after I built the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

By 2019 I would cut my teeth as an Urban Geographer being brought up like other Geographers, Planners and Engineers with the SimCity and Cities Skylines urban simulators.

While limitations are known and readily acknowledged with the urban simulators they still have provided countless hours of enjoyment and experimentation on urban geographic forms. The urban simulator is not going away either but rather it will continue to evolve in complexity just as cities do today.

Did I miss anything not play First Person Shooters? No – but rather gained a whole lot more!

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