So Six Urban Planners Play SimCity 5…

SimCity 5

Last month, Co.Exist and Greg Lindsay brought together a diverse group of six urbanists, three architects, three journalists, and a video game designer and let them loose in a tournament to build the best city in SimCity 5.

Who can design the “perfect” city

The result: KPF’s XimCity

Writer John McDermott sums it up for the tournament as all teams were destined to fail by the game design:

The game’s beauty lies in the fact that–like in real life–creating a “perfect” city is impossible. What makes cities great, rather, are their imperfections. By placing millions of error-prone humans within a limited vicinity, cities constantly force their inhabitants to bump into one another physically, mentally, and emotionally. A truly great city isn’t governed by an algorithm, it’s one that routinely delivers the unpredictable.

I would probably go one step further to say that “good” or “better” cities are too dynamic to ever really be considered truly designed or planned. Residents and city leaders come and go, each generation puts its own touches on the community, stuff happens. The unexpected and, yes, unpredictable allow and influence cities to be free flowing and exciting.

Planning helps, but not totally.

Edward Glaeser wrote it best in his book “Triumph of the City” (9): “With very few exceptions, no public policy can stem the tidal forces of urban change.” In other words, change happens and generally speaking no amount of tinkering from local leaders can really stop it.

[photo via SimsTrueLife/flickr]

In The Wal-Mart de Mexico Scandal, Urban Planners Are Blemished Too

Wal-Mart de Mexico Logo

If you haven’t already done so, please read New York Times reporter David Barstow’s comprehensive reporting on Walmart’s intensive push for store growth in Mexico, involving bribes by executives of its subsidiary Wal-Mart de Mexico to local officials, including elected ones, for construction permits.

No, urban planners were not spared from the scandal, no matter how “obscure” they were (i.e., low on the land use and political power totem poll).

UPDATE: New York Times journalist David Barstow was recently awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on this scandal.

[image via CAC Porter Novelli]

Don’t Know What Urban Planners Do? Please See BLS…


Many of the graduate urban planning courses I took typically started with a brief class exercise to describe urban planning and the roles of urban planners. It seemed tedious at the time. Of course, I know what urban planning was and what urban planners did.

Fast forward to me describing urban planning to one of my friends. And guess what? I failed. I froze. Describing urban planning was easy. Proving why urban planning was important was slightly more difficult, especially to someone who repeatedly asked why. I floundered in my attempts to re-articulate my descriptions in a way that person would understand.

After more failure, I gave up. Looking back, I wish I had redirected my friend to the U.S. Bureau Of Labor Statistics’ “Urban and Regional Planners” entry in its Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition (PDF).[1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Urban and Regional Planners, on the Internet at (visited December 21, 2011).] I have not read a more concise and accurate summary of what urban planners actually do.

Urban and regional planners develop long- and short-term plans for the use of land and the growth and revitalization of urban, suburban, and rural communities and the region in which they are located.” Among the significant highlights of the entry (verbatim, emphasis mine):

  • Local governments employ about 66 percent of urban and regional planners.
  • Employment is projected to grow 19 percent, which is faster than the average.
  • Most new jobs will be in affluent, rapidly growing communities.
  • Job prospects will be best for those with a master’s degree; bachelor’s degree holders with additional skills in GIS or mapping may find entry-level positions, but advancement opportunities are limited.


I would be remiss if I did not mention that the employment projection was made in 2009 and is probably less accurate now given the shape of the economy and the decimation of local government budgets. Planning tends to be paid for by developer fees and without steady development (good-bye sprawl) planning and/or community development departments were trimmed to bare-bones staffing levels. Ironic, no?

[photo via Chascamp/Charles Campbell (top) | TORONTOist/Waterfront Toronto/Heritage Toronto (bottom)]