Regular readers of this blog will now doubtless be aware of this company’s view that the domain of video games is criminally under-utilised – not just for what it offers more generally to our shared broader culture, but in terms of the many brilliant ideas generated within the gaming framework which have clear potential for non-virtual adoption. And it is the Maxis classic Sim City 3000 (‘SC 3000’) – a title that continues to inspire devotion long after its original 1998 iteration – that we wish to presently draw your attention to.
Sim City 3000 is a remarkable piece of software for many reasons, but its Health, Education and Aura (‘HEA’) department – headed up by the inimitable Randall Shoop – is arguably the most brilliant innovation in the entire game; the key lies in the last letter of that acronym. As well as city data maps containing information on everything from schooling provision to traffic density, SC 3000 also has a chart detailing the presence (or otherwise) of ‘aura’, which is defined by the corresponding Electronic Arts game manual as ‘good feelings for the city [as a whole]’: areas of high aura are denoted by (deep) shades of blue, while low-aura neighbourhoods are coloured red; the angrier the shade, the uglier the vibe.
Focusing on something as seemingly touchy-feely and subjective in an era of big data may seem anachronistic. But as any urban dweller knows, different parts of the same city can vary enormously in how they make people feel; these reactions can be predicted with such consistency that they are more or less reflected in concrete indicators such as property prices.
Moreover, it is – at least in large part – no real secret what makes for high-aura areas: beautiful buildings, plentiful green space and easy access to cultural and recreational amenities will all go a long way towards giving residents, workers and tourists alike not just an added spring in their step, but an attachment to a location which goes beyond the merely functional. It would therefore be possible to build up a pretty accurate picture of existing zones of aural import, and then set about exporting replicable elements to the bywords for urban blight.
Municipal authorities around the world should be under no illusions: cities which prioritise the spread of good vibes are not indulging in a trendy fad; they are making their assets more internationally competitive and ensuring that the people who inhabit their urban areas actually want to stay there. Whether directly or indirectly, the time for the aura map to migrate from digital fiction to policy reality has come.
Regular readers of this blog will by now be more than aware that we at Mediolana harbour a deep sense of attachment towards our city of incorporation. Nevertheless, we are not blind to at least some of its darker realities, and the news that the financial, legal and cultural capital of not just the United Kingdom but arguably Western Europe has suffered biological leakage to the tune of over 80,000 people in a single year does not remotely surprise us.
It is all too easy – and logical – to point the finger at the Brexit ‘decision’ and ‘process’ for this decline. But this allocation of blame is ultimately unsatisfactory, and fails to recognise the deeper, structural problems which have needlessly blighted life in London for far too long; in particular, if the following deficiencies continue to remain unaddressed, one of the most iconic urban areas anywhere in the world could slide into a permanent population recession:
- Bad value. The most obvious issue confronting London today is that it offers sensationally awful value for money when to comes to the bare necessities. Specifically, the cost of both public transportation and housing – neither of which are world-class, taken as a whole – is nothing less than an insult to the intelligence. Most people can only take so much of this before they begin to wonder whether there might not be a better way of doing things.
- Zero capitalism. Connected to (1), municipal and city-wide authorities alike have lost sight of the need of industry for reasonably-priced land and buildings. As copiously demonstrated in metropolitan units from Berlin to Barcelona, the manufacturing and creative industries of the future can flourish in unlikely locations – as long as they are not smothered by anti-competitive rent-seekers.
- No time this time. Compounding it all is a profound sense of time-and-motion sickness: in the insane rush to get to wherever it is they think they are going, Londoners – especially, though not exclusively, those in the professional classes – are readily exchanging quality of life for that extra bit of speed and purported glitz. Friendships, relationships and transcendence have been swapped for an even-faster smartphone. But the messages on the screen are getting increasingly contentless.