“Suburbia!” – the game!

Suburbia - the game.jpg

Front and back of the board game Suburbia. (Michael Mehaffy)

I added both exclamation points, with full ironic intent. The game Suburbia? How about let’s play another game, Traffic Jam! (exclamation added). There are city-building games already, so why in heaven’s name a suburbia-building game? Maybe it’s a sort of “city building for dummies” – people (are there any?) yet unaware that sprawl has put cities, their inhabitants and everyone else at risk.

I couldn’t remember the name of the city-building game that started it all, so I googled “city-building games” and found Sim City immediately, but also this: “Top 10 Best City Building Games.” It has a couple of Sim City versions but topped out with “Cities Skyline,” which was modernist in the video but gives you the option of building your skyline in different styles. My fave was No. 10, listed first though last ranked. It seemed very City Beautiful at first glance. You build a city then an empire. The whole video is eight minutes.

Michael Mehaffy sent to Pro-Urb some wry comments about Suburbia. He heads Sustasis, in Portland, Ore., which seeks to prolong some of the more intelligent thinking that emerged from rebuilding New Orleans and its vicinity after Katrina. Here are his astute comments on Suburbia:

I saw this in the book store today, displaying not a whiff of irony. Live in the community of tomorrow, today!  Big McMansions! Office Towers in the Park! Play the game, build more stuff, and make more profit!

They do have one thing right. It’s a massive game, with rules and incentives and all the rest of the complex influences on the still-predictable outcome.  Call it the “operating system for growth.” If you want to see a different outcome, change the rules…

And also, change the mindset. Which clearly, New Urbanism has not done for this game designer, or his fans. (Based in San Jose, by the way.)

“As your town grows, you’ll modify both your income and your reputation.  As your income grows, you’ll have more cash on hand to purchase better and more valuable buildings, such as an international airport or a high-rise office building. As your reputation increases, you’ll gain more and more population (and the winner at the end is the player with the most population).”

It’s worth remembering, once in a while, that a whole lot of people still don’t have a clue what we’re talking about. We’d better be very clear ourselves, as a first order of business.


Mehaffy’s Sustasis is republishing Christopher Alexander’s pathbreaking paper “A City Is Not a Tree” (the paper, before it became a book) on its 50th anniversary (with commentary) and is seeking donations to pay for the work involved. A kickstarter campaign failed to achieve its goal in the allotted time. Still, there is an interesting video link, and I’m sure Sustasis will continue in other ways to get this exciting project done. Click the link to learn more about Sustasis, its goals, and the Not a Tree project.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
This entry was posted in Architecture, Architecture Education, Architecture History, Art and design, Books and Culture, Development, Landscape Architecture, Preservation, Urbanism and planning, Video and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to “Suburbia!” – the game!

    • Oops, it dropped the title. What I said in the first sentence was, I’m pleased to say that “A City is not a Tree: 50th Anniversary Edition,” is now in publication! We have new contributions from a number of prominent scholars including Lizz Plater-Zyberk, Robert Campbell, Howard Davis, Yodan Rofe, and many more! We will have info on it soon, after we do a larger print run. (The first one was to do proofs etc.) Best, m


    • Good! Sounds like an exciting way to kick off the new year! Good luck! Please let me know when there’s purchase information I can convey to readers.


  1. Stephen ORourke says:

    Suburbia is just fine!

    No too many housebreaks, crime, loud noises, etc… Both the city and suburbs have something to offer, especially schools where a child might learn something and not be frightened for their lives.


    • You are right of course, Steve. It’s a shame that so much of suburbia is so boring, with such bad traffic. Cities require suburbs, but they could be better designed. Nowadays, the suburbs are no longer the goal of a rising middle class but, for many, the affordable alternative to the worst parts of the city.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.