Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Modeling a City

Some of you may recall my enthusiasm for the (fourth version of) famed Simcity simulation. Well, my interest has reached a new level with a project I've just undertaken to model the city of Chongqing. From the simmering spires of Jiefangbei through the industrial jungles of Dadukou to the banyan-lined avenues of Shapingba (the district where I currently reside), the city slowly comes to life like some manner of Brenneisen-stein monster.

This is actually the sort of project I've had in mind to create for the last four years. Ever since I first laid hands on the simulation game, the intricacies of city design have unfolded before my eyes. I could never look at a city the same way again. Cities are an art-form. Collective thousands, millions, even billions of people may have helped to shape the ever-changing, ever-evolving shape of a beast that can encompass both the airy heights and the rotting lower shanks of the human urban existence. The city is an unceasing work that has devoured some of the best minds of so many generations, and spun out world-changing cultural, political, educational, and economic centers. How would the American view his or herself, without Broadway, Wall Street, or the Washington Mall? Likewise, how would today's Chinese view themselves without Shanghai's Pudong District or Beijing's Tiananmen Square?

We create our monstrous wakening urbs through vast, concurrent exercises of need, greed, and whimsy. The results, after layer upon layer of such mixed impulses have been applied upon one another, are phenomenal--capable of creating phenomenon.

So, in Capetown, in NYC, in Seattle, Chicago, and now Chongqing, I have always viewed the metropoli around me with a calculating eye. What exactly is the impact of that shoreline elevated rail that pierces the heart of the city? How are the remote hillside lairs of the wealthy stockbrokers connected to the steel and concrete labyrinth of the CBD where they work? What would be the impact of turning a leafy, suburban enclave into a high-density forest of condos with high-speed monorail and highways to downtown? These questions make my trips into the city more interesting, certainly, but I really do want more concrete answers to the hypotheticals in my head. Plus, there's just the joy of modeling a complex artifact of modern humanity.

The city is alive.

No comments: