Okay, not really! I also learned many terrible things about local governments by working for one. But I was thinking about Simcity — I’ve played all the versions from Classic to SC4 — and how it relates to real-life issues. This is not an exhaustive list:
Local control is a great euphemisms for ‘screwing the poor’. The latest versions of SC allow the user to fine-tune tax rates. You can set one rate for high-income residential households, another for middle-income HHs, and a third for low-income HHs. Similarly, you can set special rates for different categories of industry and commercial zones. The way I played, one key to creating an aesthetically-pleasing city was establishing highly regressive rates: no taxes on high-tech industry and high-end commercial office space, high taxes on low-income residents.
(City of Karsk, via Simtropolis)
Real-life local officials operate with the understanding that generous social provision for low-income residents will generate more low-income claimaints. Not through “dependency” or any such bullshit, but because high-service, progressively-taxing areas will be attractive to more needy residents. There’s a spiral of doom: high-income residents flee rising property tax rates, low-income residents are attracted by cheap housing and the availability of municipal services. Consequently, federal grants and pass-thru funds are the only way to provide decent services to the poor. Increasing local taxes to pay for redistributive programs is going to be a no-go for most mayors and city councils.
(Yglesias has related thoughts here. Also related, Monica Potts’ Moral Combat, Why do liberals plays computer games like conservatives?)
SimCity is hurting America. Almost every young urban planner I’ve met got into the profession by playing too much SC as a kid. Today’s more progressive planners like to emphasize mixed-use zoning, transit-oriented development, walkable neighborhoods, and (for the libertarian-inclined) market urbanism but many are still stuck with the Le Corbusier/SimCity Classic paradigm of gigantic superblocks. SimCity — the older versions, especially — encourages stark segregation of residential, commercial, and industrial zones, connected by wide, high-speed arteries.
Putting an end to sprawl-inducing public policies and encouraging greater density is an under-appreciated solution to economic stagnation. The cultural influence of SC hasn’t helped.
If you leave the game on ‘cheetah’ speed and come back an hour later, your city will have turned into a Mad Max dystopia. This is true to real-life. Good cities need good government.
Interesting. I always wanted to play SimCity but I never did! I played the Sims, and Civ IV (planning the whole civilization) but I ironically skipped the level my future career will be working on. This makes me feel like that is a good thing, though!