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My Week As Robert Moses, With Oil Wells

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Soon enough, familiar urban woes set in.  

The third item in the catechism of virtual planning is Transit, Schmansit. The game has plenty of public-transportation options, but as in most of America they can easily be ignored. There is no subway, no bike paths, no separated bus lanes. We do get streetcars, a giveaway that the shining city on a hill closest to EA headquarters is San Francisco. Actual municipalities have been reducing congestion by refining tolls and parking meters; in the virtual version, on-street parking is so plentiful that parking lots and garages don’t exist. But roads rule, and woe betide the mayor who does a poor job planning them. In real-life New York, skyscrapers cluster along former cow paths, but not in SimCity: There, density requires wide boulevards, and the tallest, slickest neighborhoods in Pip City wound up looking oddly like Houston.

Leoville, too, did well at first. Draped over a picturesque promontory, it featured a ring of industrial flatlands, with a residential area perched above the smog.

Then we struck oil.

I worried: Drilling requires a lot of real estate. But Milo figured out that if we could pump oil quickly enough, the game gods would permit us to build a massive steel-and-glass Petroleum HQ, and if we extended that with a Commerce Division, we could then build a trade port, turning Leoville into a global trading center.

We might have left the oil in the ground and focused instead on creating cultural magnets. (One possibility is a very plausible avatar of the Oslo Opera House.) Instead, we issued bonds to pay for a well, then added a supplemental pump jack—then another, and another. To make room for storage tanks, we leveled factories and houses. We didn’t need to invoke eminent domain, or to battle neighbors in court. We just did it. As soon as we had accumulated the cash, we would build some new petroleum-related apparatus, which meant neglecting Leoville’s basic infrastructure needs—just for a while, we told ourselves. Some Sims began clamoring that they were “so sick we have to move out.” Fine! we said: More room for pumps! In one heartbreaking moment, we watched as a clifftop high-rise condo with a stunning view of the sea suffered an outbreak of some unspecified sewage-related disease. The tenants moved out, leaving us two bad choices: Let the handsome building fester or take it down. Renovation was not an option.

Milo looked stricken. “We’re subjugating the population to get more oil!” he said. “I feel terrible.”

Well, not that terrible: We stuck to our fossil-fueled binge, assembling an infrastructure that would shortly be obsolete. We knew we had only four months’ supply of oil, but if we could just get ourselves on a firm fiscal footing before the bounty ran out … Now the city was swimming in cash. We fixed sewage problems and added a convention center. We built a casino, which generated even more revenue—and triggered a spike in crime.

But with no land left for housing, Leoville began hemorrhaging population. Labor shortages forced industries to close. Building up cash reserves had depleted our human capital. Then the wells ran dry. We had never prepared a transition to an alternate economy, so our budget withered and our debt ballooned. The oil pumps went still. Pip City cut off the supply of nuclear power. The depleted Fire Department raced frantically around trying to put out blazes, but the rubble kept piling up. Discouraged, confused, and a little guilty, the co-mayors went to bed, letting Leoville fend for itself overnight.

By morning, our city had devolved into a hellhole. Homes rotted, and dead factories glowered. Through it all, Lynn Esperanza had remained. She was last seen trudging along a desolate sidewalk “on the way to commit a crime.” But that’s okay, really. When the treasury finally went bankrupt, a red-letter message appeared. The desperation menu offered us a few hopeless suggestions—Take Out a Bond, Raise Taxes—and one irresistible option: Build Another City.


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