Here’s a thought that I’ve been entertaining in recent weeks: How does one start a new city? There’s a Guardian article for that, laying out 20-steps to do so which includes ensuring a reliable money supply and re-educating urbanites. There’s also a suggestion to check in with your lawyer on the details of doing so, a YouTube video on how to make an ‘attractive city’, and also a guide to ‘building better cities’. There’s also centuries of attempts at creating a version of utopia or dystopia by thinkers, architects, filmmakers, and writers, that can offer lessons for the budding city-builder.
Attempting such a consuming task in real-life have been undertaken by a few, but expand that into the gaming world and that number multiplies by thousands of times. There are the professional game designers who are creating cities as the backdrop and levels within the games we play, and there are the hobbyist builders who imagine their alternate realities within the many city-building games out there.
These games often suspend aspects of reality and simplify the way our cities work to make it accessible to the gamer. Tweaking tax systems, transport networks, zoning, and city services happen at a mouse click. Often playing as an omnipotent ruler of the city, ravaging buildings have little consequence, dropping in new ones is up to your discretion, and citizen involvement is often a foreign concept. Despite its simplification, playing city-building games as a young man was my window into the complex world of real-life city-making.
Today, as a real-life urbanist with some years of experience, I am finding a new draw to these city-building sandbox games. I find myself wondering how I would approach the game mechanics now that I know a little more about cities than the average player. I am also curious about the choices my alter-ego would make in this sandboxed world with no real-life consequence. Would I do things that I would never condone in practice? (Gasp!) Where will my imagination take me within the game and perhaps beyond?
Bumicity is my project to build a fictitious city in the game Cities: Skylines. I kickstarted this project on 1 Feb 2021 as part of the #100dayproject movement and am using that momentum to keep me going. As much as it is a (serious) hobby, I am also treating it as a platform to explore various urban scenarios, ideas, and agendas while at the same time trying to learn how to play and stretch the game. Will it be a green city or an eco-disaster? Will it have vibrant public life or will live be lived behind gated developments? Will there be a masterplan or will it evolve organically? Will I even know what I am building? The plan is to document the build and thinking behind it, and share it with you.
This documentation of me building a fictitious city, which I call Bumicity, will be nerdy. Very nerdy. I imagine that there will be screenshots, annotated diagrams, and words to explain the various decisions and mistakes that I make. The project will sit on my website and I will also send summaries to your inbox. Did I say that I think this will be nerdy?
For some recipients of this newsletter, you *may* enjoy that specific intersection of gameplay and city-building. But, it may be too much nerd for others. Either way, I hope you are finding nice things in your city.