Game time: January 2021

Today is the first day of the 999 years that Bumi Inc has on this land and its fate now lay in my hands (and those of my imaginary colleagues). The choices I make will decide if the company/city survives, and also what life on this clean slate will look like for the people. Now that I think about it, when a company is also a city developer-operator, does that make the people customers or citizens?

Four islands. Dense vegetation. Sandy beaches. A mountain ridge. Look around and there’s also an abandoned lighthouse, a few abandoned houses across the land, and one wonders what lies underneath the soil and in the water. There’s a lot here.

As I get ready to embark on the build, I am tempted to design-as-I-build and respond to the changing demands of the game engine. However, I see a thin line between organic development and outright chaos. It may seem like an overkill to develop a plan while playing a game but I recognise how some planning would give guidance to decision-making, make the city legible for its citizens (and for myself), and make managing it a little bit simpler as things get progressively more complex. There is value in at least having a diagram, especially in the early stages of starting a city, so as to prevent avoidable problems in the future.

Phasing

Sketch of Development Phasing & Land Reserve plan (v. 2021)

The first move that I made as the person responsible for shaping the city is to put swathes of land on reserve. There will always be that tension between development and nature conservation and I hope that by keeping any development works within a compact footprint, I can give nature a chance. I just know too little about the rest of the island to introduce any sweeping development plans this early on.

Alongside placing land on the reserve list, I also introduced a simple phasing plan to scope the city’s development plans. This is both practical and strategic as it allows me to focus the city’s limited resources while also giving it the opportunity to respond to changing needs and demands. Besides, there is no way I can design all of the city before the city open its toll gantries next month.

Loosely organised around 3 phases, I imagine that it will take 5 game-time years for this to be built out. Phase 1A & B will probably take 12 to 18 months of game-time to complete and it will be a critical period to stabilise the operation of the city.

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A car-lite city

My vision for Bumicity is for it to be a car-lite city. In fact, as close as possible to car-free. I will not have this city divided by roads, polluted by cars, and be frustrated by gridlock.

Achieving that vision will require many things to be in place including:

  • Adopting a planning and zoning paradigm that reduces the need for motor vehicle travel.
  • A network of quality pedestrian and bicycle paths within the neighbourhoods alongside mass transit options.
  • A multi-modal system of pedestrian, bicycle, and mass transit options for intra-neighbourhood and cross-island travel.
  • A transport network that is able to support inter-state trade, industries, city services while being sensitive to pedestrian and bicycle transport requirements

All of the above require forward planning and this resulted in a simple sketch of the overall vehicular and pedestrian/bike transport network to guide future thinking even as I go about my build in an incremental manner. (Also, each one of the concepts above deserve its own post)

Concept sketch of transport network (v. 2021)

Vehicular Network

The approach is to push vehicular traffic to the edge and make the roads as the boundaries of each precinct. By pushing out vehicles to the perimeter, the hope is that the precincts itself can be designed to be a safe and walkable area. 

The primary arteries of the road system will look like four major spokes in the four cardinal directions with a major roundabout or interchange in the middle. There will also be a perimeter road on the edge of the city’s development which will skirt around major natural features. This should suffice to support the various industries and transport of goods.

Pedestrian and Bike network

With a largely flat topography, the island is well suited for pedestrian and bicycle travel. With that, a web of pedestrian routes will be built to provide main arteries for cross-island and also intra-precinct travel. The localised pedestrian and bicycle paths will then connect to this network.

This web of connections will run complementary to the orientation of the vehicular network and parks and other facilities will be built at key junctions. A major city park will also be built at the central intersection of this system, reclaiming the space above the vehicular roundabout to become a community node.

Phase 1

The concept sketch provided a starting point for me to design the required infrastructure for the developments in Phase 1A and 1B. Plot geometries, sizes and routes were regularised for practicality and efficiency purposes. Drawing this up also gave form to the transport network hierarchy: the vehicular roads at the perimeter while cyclists and pedestrians take priority within the precincts. With the underlying grid established, I now have a scaffold from which precincts could be carved out for further development.

Development sketch of transport network and plot layout for Phase 1.

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A precinct plan

This early stage of Bumicity’s existence demands for some things to be established as quickly as possible:

A) A ‘basecamp’ is needed for the city to build itself up. This includes provision of basic infrastructure like power and water, space and facilities for the advance party who will be building the city, and space for the incoming building materials and supplies needed to kickstart the city.

B) What is a city without its people? The first neighbourhood needs to be built quickly so that all the new citizens (whom I shall call Bumiers) on the different visas (I imagine there to be a few variations) can start their new life here. I also imagine all the private investors who have paid a lot of money to be in front of the ‘new citizens’ queue getting impatient. At the same time, the city could really use all the tax revenue to invest in and sustain itself.

C) In order to be financially sustainable, the city also needs to get its economy up and running. The burst of construction and provision of goods and services to support the neighbourhood will offer some jobs to the populace. But beyond that, the abundance of trees on the island suggests that a sustainable forestry industry is not only feasible but potentially lucrative too.

Sketch of precincts in Phase 1
Diagrammatic sketch of zones in Phase 1

All this loosely translates to the creation of three different precincts which will complement each other and offer a foothold for the city to take the next step. In the diagram, I outline the locations of the shopping areas, civic facilities, parks, staff residences, and private developments, ensuring that they are in a reasonable distance from each other. Creating the diagram also gives me a chance to imagine the orientation and masses of what might be ahead.

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Game limitations

While all these sketches offer a path forward, there are limitations to the game which makes executing these plans a little tricky.

The C:S zoning system is one-dimensional thus losing all the benefits that mixed-use zoning brings. There may be work-arounds like stacking two different asset types with the Move It mod, but I will need to do a bit of experimenting to see if it truly works.

The default game is also vehicle-centric. It only allows land adjacent to roads to be zoned and not those adjacent to paths. It also always orientates the front of the building to the road whereas I would much prefer to have roads leading to the back of the building where a carpark might be, and have the ground floor activities directly connected to pedestrian paths. All this makes it very difficult to have a vibrant and pedestrian-first street design/experience in the game. Fortunately, I have found some different road assets in the Steam Workshop that attempts to address this, and I will be experimenting with that in the first few precincts.

Lastly, while C:S has ‘policies’ to offer some control over how a precinct functions, it lacks development control tools like height limits and setbacks. This makes it difficult to achieve coherent urban forms like continuous edges and stepped heights. The only way to do so is by manually ‘plopping’ buildings instead of ‘zoning’ them and while this gives a lot of control, it is incredibly inefficient.

The existence of a vibrant modding and YouTube community around Cities:Skylines make me feel hopeful that there are solutions to these game limitations. As I wrote in an earlier post, imagining this city in my head (or in sketches) will be different from actually building it and therein lies the real challenge of this project.

Next up, time to build in-game. Onwards.

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