Building a traveller-friendly SimCity

Geeky post alert!

This post is about Simcity, a computer game that simulates city building. Its a single player game where one starts with an empty land and slowly builds cities (or towns / villages) over the whole region. A range of factors, such as unemployment, pollution, transportation, utilities, environmental and trade policies, taxes, industries, health and education, govern how the city will develop – and I think it is sufficiently realistic. Infact, this game has been used by planners and architects in a number of research projects.

Characteristics of a traveler-friendly city

A range of socio-cultural and geo-political variables come together to form complex mosaics that our cities are. Most cities, even well planned ones, eventually grow organically and evolve their own identities. Which is a good city and which isn’t? Hard to tell! Each traveller will have his/her own preferences, likes and dislikes about a city. Although cities are constantly making efforts to woo visitors, the so-called “ideal city” for tourists does not exist.

However, what if we were to create one from scratch? Yea, now we are talking something!

Having spent countless hours in front of my computer building dream cities, and countless hours wandering in cities around the world, I certainly know what I would like to see in a city. Let’s examine some principles that Sim City mayors could employ in their projects to make both visitors and residents happy. Not perfect, but quite acceptable!

Here’s my list of top 5 strategies:

↑ Commuter train station with elevated rail system

1. Plenty of public transport options

Simcity provides a number of transportation tools at your disposal as the city mayor. You can build an underground metro system, surface tram network, elevated rail, monorail, high-speed rail, bus lines and regional railways. Most of my cities use two or three other kinds of mass transport modes in addition to buses and railways.

A comprehensive public transit system is a boon for residents and travellers alike, making it very convenient to hop across the town whether for work or for sight seeing. New-York City’s metro system always impresses me and so did Moscow’s. One of my favourite activities is to get a day pass and get off at a random station to explore the area.

↑ Broad central plaza with a tram station (belongs to the green line) flanking its west side and a City Hall on its east side

2. Parks, plazas and green space

Sim City encourages mayors to build green space. In fact, prosperity of a city is directly proportional to the amount of parks and plazas the city has.

As much as I love crowds (and I love them, I am from Mumbai!) I am also looking for places to wind down. In Toronto I like to go to parks for exercise, photography or to have a picnic with friends. When I am visiting a new city, I look for a green spaces to relax and have a meal or write my journal. It’s the best place for taking a break or people watching.

3. A tight knit Town centre and a town square

City planning has evolved over thousands of years and it manifests in a variety of flavours around the world. What’s common is a central place for people to gather, a place of power (or a spot for the occupy protests).

It could be the Red Square of Moscow or the Zocalo of Mexico City, I always strive to build a city square and place administrative buildings such as the city hall around it. Travelling in South America has influenced much of this peculiar colonial Spanish setup. It makes sense from an organizational perspective to place Sim City reward buildings such as the Mayor’s residence, Town and City Hall, Bureaucracy building, Senate house, etc.

4. Public spaces for recreation and entertainment

Travellers are always tight on budget, and I am sure it will get worse over time. I would love to visit a city that organises festivals, shows and concerts for people to enjoy. If the venue is a public space, ticket prices are usually cheaper too. Depending on my treasury I build entertainment centres, theaters, opera houses, libraries, etc. In Toronto, I am always supporting arts and culture (PS: I don’t mind if the city levies a surcharge to subsidize cultural events and festivals.) If I could build a Broadway theatre street in SimCity, I’d totally do that. Anything to build more cultural capital.

↑ Historic tram line running through this neighborhood that has characteristic duplex and triplex apartments

5. Characteristic neighbourhoods

If you checkout Philadelphia or Mexico City, you’ll notice clear characteristics that distinguish neighbourhoods from one another. I want that, I like that. Soviet style conformity may be efficient but it’s the fuzzy chaos of small streets and narrow alleys, local stores and markets, variety in architecture and such interesting features that that make a city rich in social capital.

If I build a high-density upscale residential neighbourhood, I build pedestrian malls and plazas. On the other hand low-density neighbourhoods get a park or two, winding streets and farmers markets. There is only so much you can control but it is possible to give different look to different districts of your city.

↑ Mixed income neighbourhood. Residents in this community voted to preserve their red brick-lined streets

So those were some Sim City specific factors that would make a city more interesting from a tourism perspective. Hope you enjoyed reading this post.

What other features would you add to your SimCity?