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Monday, December 14, 2009

A game that teaches how a good city can be developed

In this age of high-tech computer games that require the latest soundcards and faster computers, it is refreshing to go back to games that force one to think rather than just pound away at the keyboard. And I am not talking about chess.

Building city planners should play SimCity to have a better grasp of the issues with regard to city planning.

It was in the midst of discussion about local governance issues, like how residents are battling one another over road closures, that SimCity came to my mind.

I believe that all city planners should play this game because it teaches us how a good city can be developed.

Most people who play this game normally take the easy way by just building and building. What happens at the end is that pollution, crime and a whole range of social issues arise to make you a highly unpopular mayor.

A thoughtful planner, on the other hand, knows how to balance development with the needs of the people. He builds parks, libraries and marinas in between the industrial and residential zones.

He is careful about building too many roads that lead to traffic congestion.

He modifies the tax structures for certain industries and comes up with ordinances that enhance the quality of life for the people.

If he is lucky, the people will throw him a “spontaneous parade” in his honour. I have been playing the game for weeks and despite doing what I believe is right, I have yet to get such a parade.

My son got his first parade recently and as I analysed his city, I realised that he was not simply giving “goodies” to the people but actually creating a right blend of development that ensured a thriving economy.

As he rightly pointed out to me: “What’s the point of having so many parks amidst low-density residential zones when the people have no means of earning a living?”

For sure, my city was aesthetically more pleasing than his, but the city council budget remained low and people were not flocking into my city.

Coming back to reality, since March 2008, there has been a change of government in some states that has also had an impact on the way local councils are run.

Many new councillors bring a refreshing perspective, but some of them are simply not keyed into the reality of managing the area under their jurisdiction.

Thus, an issue over whether an access road should remain open or otherwise has a more complicated scenario than one can imagine.

Pleasing one group of residents invariably means displeasing another group, and it does not help when both areas had voted for the same party the last time around.

The electoral boundaries no longer count because every sub-group can threaten to withdraw their vote if you don’t see things their way. And in urban constituencies, you can be assured that they know how to make their vote count.

All of them may be in one accord with the party on the bigger issues but when it comes to ground issues like traffic jams, billboards or landfills, you can be assured that they will think of their own interests first.

I would like to suggest that all the budding councillors play SimCity to have a better grasp of the issues with regard to city planning. There is no need to go on expensive overseas familiarisation tours. Who knows, you may even get a spontaneous parade in your honour.

>Deputy executive editor Soo Ewe Jin lives in a city that could take a few lessons from the SimCity councillors and residents associations.

By The Star (by Soo Ewe Jin)

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