Sitting in the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel, playing SimCity
In the early 1990s, while going through an MBA program in California, I encountered SimCity.
I am not, nor never have been much of a game player, but this intrigued me at the time.
If you bear with me a bit for a fairly intricate explanation, I will show you how this affects you here today in Colorado, and 10 years, and 20 years, and 30 years, or more down the road.
SimCity was published in 1989, and was the first game in the SimCity series. SimCity was originally developed by game designer Will Wright. Though the inspiration for SimCity came from a feature of the game “Raid on Bungeling Bay” that allowed Wright to create his own maps during development, he soon found he enjoyed creating maps, more than playing the actual game, and so the idea for SimCity was created. While developing SimCity, Wright cultivated a real love of the intricacies and theories of urban planning and acknowledges the influence of System Dynamics which was developed by Jay Wright Forrester and whose book on the subject laid the foundations for simulation.
System dynamics was created during the mid-1950s by Professor Jay Forrester of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, starting in 1956, when he accepted a professorship in the newly formed MIT Sloan School of Management. His primary goal was to determine how his background in science and engineering could be applied to the core issues that determine the success or failure of business.
System dynamics is an element of systems theory and is used to try to understand complex systems. The basics of which, suggest that with structure in any system, many circular, interlocking and perhaps time-delayed relationships among elements of said system, are as important as determining the individual behavior of the pieces of that system itself.
In addition, Wright also was inspired by reading "The Seventh Sally", a short story by Stanisław Lem from The Cyberiad, published in the collection The Mind's I, in which an engineer encounters a deposed tyrant, and creates a miniature city with artificial citizens for the tyrant to oppress.
“In every different edition of SimCity, the player is given the task of founding and developing a city from a patch of green land, defining what buildings are constructed via development zones - residential zones for Sims to live in; commercial zones for Sims to shop and have offices within; industrial zones to provide work through factories, laboratories and farms - as well as ensuring their citizens are kept happy through establishing various services and amenities, all while keeping a stable budget,” says History of Sim City at SimCity.com.
In short, SimCity's game mechanics are and were heavily based on 20th-century California development.
That development, and me, having come from a tiny berg in the southwest corner of Colorado that had been about 800 people strong for nearly 100 years, fascinated me to no end. I had just watched the 1987 consolidation of Canyon Country, Saugus, Newhall, and other neighboring communities into the city of Santa Clarita, in southern California. I had seen workers, priced out of the The Bay Area have to “drive until they qualify” over the Altamont and into the Central Valley.
What if such dynamics were applied to Colorado? What if the Front Range dynamics were similar?
I returned to Colorado in early 1996. In my 10-year absence, an area known as Highlands Ranch in Douglas County transformed from a place where a cowboy acquaintance of mine, “Shaggy” Leavell kept track of a few hundred head of white-faced cattle out in the scrub and sagebrush — to a city that now had 60,000 new homes, retail malls, super highways and interchanges, and more. Douglas County had become the fastest-growing county in the nation and nearby counties weren’t far behind. It looked like someone had put the gas to SimCity.
Which brings us to today, albeit through a bit of a slowdown (or less of an acceleration) in the early part of this millennium, and then the economic disaster of 2008, 2009, and so on.
But things are heating up again.
Regardless, the Colorado State Demography Office, has the following projections:
- Colorado, as a state, is expected to grow from about 5.5 million people today, to more than 8.5 million by 2050.
- The Front Range, is expected to grow from about 4.6 million folks today, to more than 7.1 million by 2050.
- Here in the Colorado Springs Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), which includes El Paso and Teller Counties, at slightly more than 700,000 people, will relatively suddenly become 1.1 million people by 2050.
Demographers, of course have been wrong, but interestingly, in California’s case, and otherwise, they usually tended to underestimate, because certain external forces (at the time of model development, outside the system) were brought to bear.
I was tickled by local musician and philosopher Charlie Searles recent mention of Warren Zevon’s lyrics: “And if California slides into the ocean, like the mystics and statistics say it will,
I predict this motel will be standing, until I pay my bill.”
My memory is still clear regarding things that happened here in Colorado in the 1970s. I vividly remember Gov. Dick Lamm in a sober second inaugural speech back then, predicting that “Colorado was on painful collision course with the future.” Yes. Trouble is, we still will need to work out how the model works for our own SimCities, and will it provide water, transportation, energy, education, and industry. All, while at the same time, preserving the quality of life, we have come to expect. Don't you feel just like desperados under the eaves.