IF you have a relative or friend or contact working closely or remotely with an organisation involved in urban planning, I now bring it to your attention that Christmas is around the corner and I have the perfect gift in mind.
Yes! This year, get your relative, friend or contact in urban planning to erase Solitaire and Candy Crush. Have their supervisors cancel all workshops and meetings for the foreseeable future so that they spend their working hours playing ‘Sim City’ for even just a few days, and you will have done some national service for Uganda.
This game puts the player in the seat of ‘Mayor’ and allows them to plan a city from scratch. It forces them to build up communities in grids that are easy and logical to manage, so that they don’t have roads winding as if they were both designed and built by teams of people under the heavy influence of alcohol or mind-debilitating medication.
Within a short time of play, Sim City will show a player the sense in laying out housing structures in an order that fits purposes such as the deployment of utilities and creation of employment. If the player is greedy for rent and rates and sets up too many houses without commercial buildings nearby, for instance, the houses will remain unoccupied because tenants won’t have jobs from which to earn to pay the rents.
And if the player builds up high-end housing but only creates low-end commercial areas nearby, again the houses will remain empty and the low-end commercial areas will also fail because the commute from the residential areas of the workers will be too long for them to seek employment there.
Your relative, friend or contact in urban planning will benefit from the lessons regarding road placement and construction as they play this game, and realise that the increase in population of a residential area will always necessitate a change in road use and traffic planning.
Luckily, in the game, this only requires a few clicks of the mouse (or trackpad) but must be accompanied by some budget planning that the computer forces you to keep an eye on as you progress. It is so easy, however, that the player quickly learns how to turn some roads into one-way streets to ease congestion and movement, and to upgrade other roads to increase the number of lanes and therefore traffic flow.
If the person planning my side of Kampala, the south-eastern end, knew how to play ‘Sim City’, for instance, the irritation we suffer when the road turns into an angry parking lot every morning and evening for a couple of hours, would fade away.
My urban planners would benefit greatly from learning that before granting building permissions to people putting up more apartment blocks and housing estates, the road networks must be addressed as well. They would learn how to calculate ratios so that a neighbourhood such as mine, with narrow roads designed logically for bicycles and small domestic pets unaccompanied by shoe-wearing pedestrians, does not suddenly see two thousand apartments coming up within one year – especially where each apartment will accommodate couples owning two vehicles each!
They would also hesitate before allowing a shopping mall to go up with one entrance way located at an odd angle right at a petrol station, and another just off not one, but TWO, small roads that are already congested with traffic from a school whose parents all own vehicles, en route to an Industrial Area that constantly receives containerised trucks.
Sim City is so sensible in its configuration that when the player insists on illogical structure placement, the citizens burst into angry riots bred from frustration, and the game logic advises the player to deploy more police stations, fire engines and health centres – but all depending on the budget and funds one has available.
At points, the player gets forced to demolish a poorly conceived structure, at some cost to the city but with the benefit of easing tensions, creating comfort, and increasing revenues from the continued business and tenancies.
It also limits the player mayor from creating neighbourhoods in which residents find themselves in the awkward position of sitting on their verandahs facing outward onto a next door neighbour whose verandah is facing left onto another neighbour facing right while presenting the back of his house to the front of another neighbour in what we call, in some vernacular, “okukunamira”.
It is a little odd that this game was launched way back in 1989 and runs principles that many urban planners here seem largely unaware of, but then perhaps that is our fault since we aren’t giving them the right gifts at Christmas and on their birthdays.
‘Sim City’ only costs US$20 (Ushs52,000) on the Apple Store and in the United States, and ZAR300 (Ushs72,000) in South Africa – much less than the fuel each of us wastes every day in those morning and evening main road parking lots.
By the way, the ‘Sim’ in this does NOT stand for Simon, so I have no conflict of interest to declare; but on that note, if you’re a Ugandan architect or urban planner with any initiative whatsoever, here’s an opportunity: create a localised Ugandan version of ‘Sim City’ but without our localised version of ‘urban planning’, and rake in the shillings from a desperate public that needs to see a change in the organisation of our urban spaces.
Believe me, the urban planning recipient of these gifts will thank you profusely; I don’t think they are proud right now of what they see when they are driving to and from work every day, and would certainly appreciate your contribution to their delivering a much higher quality of service and work to their nation, Uganda.