The Perfect City

I sometimes think back on the numerous, half-formed neighborhoods and townships I’ve left behind to fend for themselves after some catastrophic occurrence led them to ruin. I wonder if the people there are still suffering the effect of polluted ground water, coastal flooding, rolling blackouts I inadvertently inflicted upon them through a combination of ignorance, amateurism and neglect. I’d routinely rub up against some society ending issue that I’d opt to run away from rather than stay and attempt to fix my terrible city planning blunders. This is my endless cycle in Cities: Skylines, the rinse and repeat I find myself in as I search for the perfect city.

I’ve enjoyed Cities: Skylines a lot in the past, mostly by disabling all economic restrictions and building idyllic utopias to my heart’s content, as if some altruistic Scrooge McDuck was financially backing me. But after a long hiatus from being such a prolific mayor, the new console remaster of Cities: Skylines released recently, and I’ve fallen right back into my old ways. There is a big difference this time around however, which is that this time I’m playing by the rules. No cheats, no mods, no deviations from the standard, city-building experience, just pure, uncut mayorship.

It has been an adjustment to say the least, as suddenly I have to account for the fact that I can’t just give the people a fire station to preempt a burning building. I can’t just give people an elementary school, nor can I just take out the trash or even provide a steady supply of electricity. I kind of have to let the people tough these things out until the finances work out in such a way that building that service won’t doom the entire city. It’s required a patience that I’ve had no choice but to learn, but it’s been kind of satisfying to see my city experience these financial boons that ultimately allow for extremely expensive boondoggles that usually result in my unceremonious abandoning of the city.

This is NOT a picture of a city I doomed. This is a nice zoo

The first city I started, Lakeshore, a city with a ridiculous name that Cities: Skylines ginned up all by itself. Lakeshore, as the very good name would imply, had access to water, albeit a river and not a lake, but whatever, there was water. It was only a few months into the simulation before I learned the harsh lesson about how generalized industrial zones pollute the ground beneath it, making that a pretty shitty location for a water tower that would supply a burgeoning city. Not having a hospital really compounded that issue, which led to a sudden drop in the population and the income Lakeshore was enjoying. People were just dying off in droves, collapsing in the streets or not being found until some conscientious neighbor came to check on the smell next door. The snowball rolled faster and faster downhill, gaining speed and size with every unattended moment. Eventually it got so big that I turned tail and walked away towards my next unintentionally dubious endeavor.

That next endeavor was where I experienced an unyielding success that resulted in me being brought down by my own hubris. San Ramos, (again, stellar name generation) was a cozy, sun-soaked beachfront city with a speedy little river running through the starting landmass. Picturesque in its natural beauty, I built waterfront properties, thriving business districts, and a vast logging and farming operation that funded so much of the services and utilities that the citizens had come to love and expect. It was also a place that had significant waste management issues, particularly when it came to wastewater.

See, in Cities: Skylines, the only tool you get to deal with sewage when you start a town, is a literal shit-spewing pipe that you can either output onto land or into the water. I chose to place that output line far enough downstream that it would be some other Cities: Skylines player’s problem. Side note: I find it fucked up that the only option, aside from buying DLC, to deal with shit in this game is to dump it in the ocean. It wasn’t a huge problem unless you angled the camera in such a way that you’d see all of the rivers in the distance had turned a nasty brown, but the water in San Ramos was totally fine.

You can’t see it from here, but the traffic is terrible

As my city began to outgrow its predefined borders, I had to buy up the surrounding land to expand my fledgling empire, which also meant that the nasty shit pipes had to be moved. Not a problem though, it was an easy fix. As the city grew, however, so did our need for energy. The best option at my disposal to handle this growing crisis was by building a hydro-electric dam, which with my overwhelming success as mayor, I could easily afford and would solve the energy crisis 30 times over.

Here’s where I have to mention that in the console remaster of Cities: Skylines, you don’t have the ability to freely look at the plots of land you don’t own. Maybe there’s a setting I could toggle, or maybe I could have just gone to the display for buying more land to get a better look, but either way, I could not actually see the areas of this continent that I didn’t currently own. This is an important detail that the jury should know.

Upon placing the dam down two things immediately happened. The first was that rolling blackouts were a thing of the past and everyone in the city was stoked out of their minds about it. The second thing that happened was that I’d see the icon for “this shit is flooded,” pulsating faintly over stretches of highway that I did not own and could barely see at best. Unable to actually do anything about those locations, I continued on my way.

What happened next took time. It was a gradual thing that I might have seen coming had it not been for arbitrary camera restrictions, but ultimately it was something I did not have any ability to fix. It was too late for intervention. The river of San Ramos flowed from east to west, the latter direction being the place where my city’s nasty toilet leavings flowed away into. So you can imagine my surprise when that same fetid, toxic sludge rolled back through the river, only this time from the east.

Yes, it turned out that the dam raised the water levels in the east enough that they poured over into the river that housed our wastewater, which wrapped around the continent in just such a way that made these two separate bodies of water, one menacing flume of doom whose endpoint was right at my dam.

The brown water splashed up against the front of the dam, settled and collected there. Our hydro-electric plant wasn’t fast enough to process this hideous sludge, which created this massive Ouroboros of shit that wrapped around the entire world, starting and ending in the heart of San Ramos. When that slime finally came back around and made a perfect loop around the continent, that’s when things got really bad.

The shore was quickly overtaken by the shit-slurry we had created. It washed over roads and neighborhoods, slowly and completely infiltrating every artery of the city, painting districts a heinous brown as it flowed across the ground. It consumed so much of my city, so fast, and there was nothing I could do but watch in horror and think about how to better plan for this situation in the next city. Surely in the next place I’d get it right.

So I left. I abandoned San Ramos in its greatest moment of need. I did the mental arithmetic and the only answer was that this place was doomed and nothing could save it. The water was poisoned, the people were sick and the roads and buildings were destroyed. San Ramos was done for, and I got out while I still could. Since then, I’ve moved on to a new city, and this time I’m going to do it right. Surely nothing could go wrong this time around. Right?

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