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.