What SimCity can’t catch

A friend wrote to me responding to a post on The Dish (http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2013/04/30/cities-dont-have-a-reset-button/):

?What is striking to me about SimCity and other models for urban planning is how increasingly-sophisticated they are getting, thanks to improving technology, incorporating more and more variables relating to everything from population density to urban waste and climate change; yet however exponentially their complexity grows, they still can?t fully account for the human element in city life ? the arbitrariness, the fickleness, the random social collisions and accidental meetings and odd patterns of human behavior that shape our communities.

For example, think about the impact of taste and popularity ? why a given restaurant or a store succeeds, and how that success can give rise to more commerce in that same area; or the opposite, how one failing establishment can signal the onset of a decay that can kill a block or a whole neighborhood. ??Or how the popularity of a sports team will — or won?t — bring crowds and commerce and the life that follows to a stadium?s neighborhood.

Sometimes, a pattern can be discerned amidst the chaos: think about how the denomination of a particular neighborhood church impacts the people who choose live there.? For example, ?in many US cities, one Roman Catholic population from an early immigration wave ? perhaps Irish or Italians ? is often replaced by a Roman Catholic population from a later wave ? maybe Haitian or Latin American, who build their communities around an available worship space.? When the denomination is not replenished by immigrants or converts, the churches become nightclubs or even condos, their centralizing role in the community largely ceded.

All of these decisions are made by individuals, but like a school of fish in slow motion, they are individuals acting with a form of group mentality ? no one sends out the memo telling people to leave the neighborhood, or to stop going to that restaurant or to stop going to that temple. But the action starts, and slowly builds, and suddenly Little Italy is Chinatown.”

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