Erosion Control

Imaginary Cities

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SimCity turns 30 years old this year. The video game, which allows players to start from scratch and develop their own metropolis, has influenced a generation of urban planners and designers. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without SimCity,” says one young professional in this Los Angeles Times article. She now works for the National Association of City Transportation Officials in New York City.

The game, and many of its spinoffs, allow players to control the infrastructure of their city (roads, power plants, mass transit) and its services (hospitals, schools, police stations), as well as less tangible things like zoning policies and tax rates. As many models do, it allows users to change variables and see the eventual outcome. One person interviewed in the article recalls using SimCity for a college class on local government, “building three scenarios in SimCity, then letting the game run on its own and writing about how his virtual cities fared.”

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But the game has some missing pieces. Although it allows the creation of different zones—residential, commercial, and industrial—it does not accommodate mixed-use development. And as the article points out, “There are no bike lanes. No iteration of SimCity has ever accurately depicted the staggering amount of a city’s square footage that’s spent on parking lots.” More recent versions have added various features, however, including separate agricultural zones.

Software developers in Helsinki, Finland, have modified a version of the game so that it reflects more international features, including different architectural styles and topography. (In this version, you can choose to build on a map with fjords.) They’ve also added a “Green City” option that includes urban gardens and solar power.

Have you played the game? What features would you add if you were trying to teach players about, say, erosion control, coastal protection, or water quality? (The game already features a disaster mode so players can see how well their city would survive an earthquake or hurricane—or Godzilla.) EC_bug_web

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  1. I’ve never played but if topography exists, then drainage areas could be defined. Having stormwater runoff with flooding events could be modeled with rainfall depths, surface types, topography and water bodies. Add in expected pollutant loading from the various surface types in the game and then you show pollution rates to waterbodies during rain events. These are all data types used in the industry and would be easy to add as an attribute to the data files in the game. The modeling is already known, too.

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