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Thread: I am wary of this teaching method

  1. #1
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    I am wary of this teaching method

    http://www.theplainsman.com/vnews/di.../3ee8a29807ae3

    I don't think this is the "real world, hands on" type of training planning students should be given.

    What does everyone think?
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Planderella's avatar
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    SimCity is an exercise in idealism. Just about anyone can create Utopia as they envision it, but I certainly wouldn't call this an exercise in real-life planning. Where are the late night meetings, the arrogant developers, the ignorant elected officials and administrators, the tax-paying citizens, etc.?
    "A witty woman is a treasure, a witty beauty is a power!"

  3. #3
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    I find it particularly ironic that the guy is using it in a class named after Death and Life.... Wasn't the conclusion of that book that cities are fantastically complex places where there are millions of unmodelable transactions taking place?

    I've not played SIm City in a while (last was 2000), but when I did it was a game based entirely on Euclidian Zoning and the assumption that everything in a city could be simulated with a few elegant equations.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    Originally posted by jordanb
    I've not played SIm City in a while (last was 2000), but when I did it was a game based entirely on Euclidian Zoning and the assumption that everything in a city could be simulated with a few elegant equations.
    Sim City 4 is still based on the same premise, not unlike our professional experiences.



    If only we could crank our communities up to cheetah speed after a zoning change......
    All these years the people said he’s actin’ like a kid.
    He did not know he could not fly, so he did.
    - - Guy Clark, "The Cape"

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    The article states "Gaber said his goal is for students to have a 'dynamic understanding of things we read in class.'"

    To that extent its a practical exercise and gives one a sense of cause and effect. As long as its in context, I think its an appropriate teaching method to supplement course work but not to replace it.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I share mendelman's concern. Sim City is entertaining, and its structure is based on planning theory (to some extent), but it does not recognize the randomness that plays such a key role in city development. As I have argued with stardarcy, that randomness may take the form of accidents or catastrophes (which SC does include) but it may also be the interplay between planning, business, community, developer, and political interests. If there is a sincere desire to get students some real life experience, work with the state APA chapter or a local community. Most would be thrilled to help.

  7. #7
    I use SimCity when I teach Planning Theory. The students have to attempt to recreate an Urban Utopia they have read about. The students think wow it would be really nice to create a garden city or the radiant city etc.

    What they find by using SimCity is that the realities of modern zoning practices and budgetary limitations make it very difficult to implement these ideas.

    The students have a good time with it and the emphasis is reallz on the paper and why they think their city struggled ...

    It is really hard to teach planning theory in a way that engages students. I find that by having them try to create these cities in a simulated model they really learn what the key elements of these utopian cities are like.

  8. #8
    I think that it is a nice supplement for the class. There was a class at UW-Milwaukee that used old school SimCity as a learning tool. I never took the class, but those who did said the teacher used it as a tool to explain what was right and wrong with each students design.

    I like how the professor says "The problems students see (on Sim City) are very real life," Gaber said. "Students are able to see things cities have to deal with." How many of us have had to deal with Godzilla smashing our city to bits?
    "I'm a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are."

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  9. #9
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Originally posted by Repo Man
    How many of us have had to deal with Godzilla smashing our city to bits?
    OOOH. My least favorite developer has a new nickname! Thanks Repo!

  10. #10
    A video game for upper divisionals, come on. I would complain to the dean or write the paper to show the waste that's going on.

  11. #11

    In defense of my class

    In defense of my class.

    The article provides a bit of a sensational perspective on my class. No, the entire class is not about SimCity. In fact, SimCity excercises only constitute 2 of the 5 required class activities. I use SimCity in the class to achieve three learning objectives: (1) understanding that planning decisions have a multi-dimensional ramifications (e.g. zoning high density with limited infrastructure creates problems: traffic, etc.); (2) all planning decisions are based on theory (e.g. I manipuate this varible (open space) to achive this desired outcome); (3) planners, and the cities they work for operate within a budget. For these objectives, I think SimCity helps students learn.

    I agree SimCity has many, many limitations. In fact, it is the land use orientation of SimCity as to why I use it in my "Death and Life of Great American Cities". Jane Jacobs does a great job showing us as a profession how wrong this perspective is. So I use SimCity to set up the students to think about Jane Jacobs writings (which constitutes 50% of the class activity and grade).

    The outcome of my using SimCity has been surprisingly positive. It is getting people in town talking about planning. Which I feel is much better than people ingnoring planning.

    If any one is interested, I would like to talk more about the class to see how I can make it better.

    On a side note, I hate SimCity 4. For me, it plays too much like a game. I cannot "win" in SimCity 4 and I am AICP.

    Best,

    John Gaber
    (Sorry for not hiding my idenity. But after the article, I felt it would be cheap for me to try to hide my idenity and try to explain my actions.)

  12. #12
    Cyburbian GeogPlanner's avatar
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    Re: In defense of my class

    Originally posted by Whiteshoes
    I cannot "win" in SimCity 4 and I am AICP.
    and he was doing sooo well in that arguement...

    Actually, I think SimCity is a helpful tool especially to those who have never been really exposed to planning. I think about my evolution from student to professional and how my thoughts and feelings have changed. I think SimCity is an excellent opportunity to show how sterile euclidian zoning is. I think that I would question why someone wouldn't use such an accessible tool.
    Information necessitating a change of design will be conveyed to the designer after and only after the design is complete. (Often called the 'Now They Tell Us' Law) - Fyfe's First Law of Revision

    We don't believe in planners and deciders making the decisions on behalf of Americans. -- George W. Bush , Scranton, PA -- 09/06/2000

  13. #13
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    simulation city

    I am an avid fan of sim city and realize that it is just a simulation.

    The game has a very limited set of controls and variables however.

    Affluent citizens will only drive and will not take mass transit.
    Mass transit only works in low-mid income neighborhoods.
    That one drives me nuts more than anything.

    the sims will only walk 4-5 buidings before they want to drive.

    on an architecture note, zero setback small town downtowns don't develop in low density. In low density you get 50s era suburban strips..ewww.

    anyway, The game can teach basic zoning principles and seperation of uses; specifically residential/industrial relationships. As everyone else has stated, it would be dangerous to explain planning is this simple and the only true real world experience that can be had is from the real world.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    The basic idea of it is good... but I think that they should turn on the illegal nonconforming uses, angry citizens who do not want the wall mart to go in, yet want a garage bigger than their house, and my favorite, the political figure who does not want to re-zone because the residents will not understand that it will be a good thing in the long run... features.
    If you're not growing, you're dying. - Lou Holtz

  15. #15
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    You know, I am an educator -- I homeschool my gifted sons, one of whom was testing at the college level in some subjects at age 11 -- and that was 5 years ago. So while I officially have high school students here, I am teaching to a college-level audience. My kids are gifted and learning disabled, which makes for challenges in trying to teach to their intellectual level without tripping over their weak areas. Additionally, teaching profoundly gifted kids always has the issue of "How do you teach subjects like Physics in a way that appeals to a child?" Most college text books are dry, dull reading at best and you cannot expect a child to have the patience and determination to do it anyway -- especially when it is so far above what is "required" for their age-based grade-level. I did pro-bono professional work in gifted education for a time in order to become proficient enough in addressing such issues to be able to appropriately educate my sons. I have a long track record of being ASKED over and over and over for my expertise on the topic and that is WHY I have a website: it grew out of popular demand, not ego. So, that is my background for why I feel qualified to critique the choices of material of a college professor. And, frankly, I am on HIS side.

    It just so happens that I was taking a very good college class in Environmental Biology around the same time we bought "The Gungan Frontiers". We had bought SimPark as part of our curriculum. Gungan Frontiers puts SimPark to shame and utterly left it in the dust. One of the excercises we did in my college class was to analyze a made-up ecosystem where we had descriptions of the behaviors of various species and we had to determine whether they were predators, herbivores, parasites, etc. My professor was a brilliant man who really impressed me (and I am hard to impress -- I have scoffed at the stupidity of many teachers in my life). There weren't necessarily clear cut "right" answers. He modeled it after real world field biology where actual scientists don't always have all the information and where they have to determine the classification for a new species based on observation of characteristics. My professor didn't want to use real species, because "everyone knows" that a lion is a predator, etc. He wanted us to actually think (quite a crisis for many students).

    Gungan Frontiers is a game based upon the Star Wars universe of critters. So they are unfamiliar, made-up animals and it is a very sophisticated, computerized model of the paper excercise my college professor designed. I routinely recommend it for homeschooling gifted kids. If supplemented with some reading on related subjects, I think it *is* usable as a college-level educational exercise. And I think SimCity is the urban planning equivalent to Gungan Frontiers.

    I also play SimCity and I got a good laugh in GIS school last summer when the professor asked us all what our experience was with GIS and why we decided to get our certificate. I told them that I tried SimCity because I want to go into planning and I wanted to "try it out" and see if I actually liked it or not. (I know it isn't the same as actually doing the job -- let's not go there.) In playing the game, I had this epiphany that planners would Kill for the kind of information on their city that SimCity gives you at the click of a button -- and it is based on that experience that I decided I had to learn GIS.

    I routinely tease my kids that "Playing 3000 hours of SimCity 3000 is a requirement to become a professional city planner." And it isn't so "easy" to build Utopia in the game. I burned many cities to the ground before I got the hang of it and when my kids play, I often fix what they have utterly screwed up. The fact that I play and that they sometimes play has led to many in depth discussions of environmental issues, social issues, etc. I think SimCity gives one the unique ability to run through a simulation on "fast forward" and see the outcome a 100 years down the road, etc. I used to save my city at a critical juncture and make multiple versions, each with a different solution to the problem. When I got the basics down, I began seeing how the whole thing hung together at a subtler and more complex level and discovered that some problems were more effectively solved by making sure, for example, that there was sufficient space between crime-causing develpment rather than piling on more crime control (such as additional police stations).

    I rarely play anymore. I think I mostly got what I needed out of it. But I think SimCity is a brilliant addition to the curriculum and I am impressed that a college professor would have the balls to include something so effective at providing a complex mental model and which also happens to leave him open to exactly the kind of ridicule he is being subjected to here, in this thread.

    Professor Gaber -- FWIW, I also am not fond of SimCity 4. But I was not fond of the first two versions of SimCity. I suspect this is simply in line with the principle that it takes 3 tries to get a new idea "right": I like the addition of a regional perspective in which the other communities that your town interacts with are not simply nebulous computer shadows. Other than that, it doesn't seem to have changed much from SimCity 3000 and it really doesn't seem to be making that leap to this new concept very well. Maybe it will down the road. I am also extremely irritated at the inability to save multiple versions of my city. It makes it difficult for me to create multiple scenarios for different concepts of how to resolve an issue. As a learning tool, SimCity 3000 seems much better to me.
    Last edited by Michele Zone; 22 Dec 2003 at 9:18 PM.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian el Guapo's avatar
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    Re: In defense of my class

    Originally posted by Whiteshoes
    In defense of my class...I cannot "win" in SimCity 4 and I am AICP.

    Best,

    John Gaber
    (Sorry for not hiding my idenity. But after the article, I felt it would be cheap for me to try to hide my idenity and try to explain my actions.)
    Doc Gaber,
    Thanks for coming on the board to comment. I hope you'll stay a while and toss around the finer points of planning with the throbbing brain of Cyburbia.
    el Guapo is a former 20 year +/- urban planner (just like you) who thought becoming an attorney was a good life choice.

  17. #17
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    Re: Re: In defense of my class

    Originally posted by el Guapo
    Doc Gaber,
    Thanks for coming on the board to comment. I hope you'll stay a while and toss around the finer points of planning with the throbbing brain of Cyburbia.
    I concur, it would be nice to have an academic to kick around for once.
    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Re: Re: Re: In defense of my class

    Originally posted by giff57
    I concur, it would be nice to have an academic to kick around for once.
    Oh, don't let their teasing bother you: they are in fine holiday cheer and OBVIOUSLY feeling guilty for having kicked you around in the first place, since no one has bothered to chide you for posting without first doing an intro.

    Besides, me and JordanB make such blatant targets. I can't imagine they will find a new punching bag unless you are a truly outrageous individual. Take it for what it is: PlannerSpeak for "Me is bad, very very bad!!" (to quote Dobbie, The guilt-ridden House Elf)

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Originally posted by michaelskis
    The basic idea of it is good... but I think that they should turn on the illegal nonconforming uses, angry citizens who do not want the wall mart to go in, yet want a garage bigger than their house, and my favorite, the political figure who does not want to re-zone because the residents will not understand that it will be a good thing in the long run... features.
    Hey, write to the company with your suggestions and explain your background. They have a great sense of humor, their product is very good and much more realistic than a lot of stuff out there and I would think it would be cool if it incorporated some of your ideas.

    Actually, the cool thing would be to have customizable features. It kills me that the list of ordinances is pretty much identical for all cities. It is just a menu to choose from and that doesn't remotely reflect the much messier reality. I was subjected to a couple of quarters of environmental law. I want a SimCity where I can write my own ordinance and see the consequence of the language!!! Rephrase it, get a different result. (I know, I know: I am being ridiculous. )

  20. #20
    Cyburbian tsc's avatar
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    I think using the gaming software Simcity is a great idea, if used in proper context and as a supplement to other coursework. I haven't seen Simcity in years though...probably about 10 years....

    My city planning prof (I have a LA degree) was horrible....and old school.
    "Yeehaw!" is not a foreign policy

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  21. #21
    Cyburbian Duke Of Dystopia's avatar
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    Originally posted by Repo Man
    .....How many of us have had to deal with Godzilla smashing our city to bits?
    Insert Walgreens or Wal-Mart
    I can't deliver UTOPIA, but I can create a HELL for you to LIVE in :)DoD:(

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Duke Of Dystopia's avatar
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    Maybe we should send this thread to the Makers of sim city for the 5.0 version or an 4.1 upgrade. think of the scrolling window at the bottom

    "Due to recent cutbacks in the police department budgets, the planning staff no loger gets to wear bulletproof vests to Plan Commission meetings".

    I can't deliver UTOPIA, but I can create a HELL for you to LIVE in :)DoD:(

  23. #23
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    the upgrades!

    for those who haven't seen simcity since sc 2000 or the original, sim city 4 is an impressive upgrade and *more* accurate simulation of city/zoning influenced development.

    However, the game still lacks the unpredictability of large scale economic and political influence.

    And yes, tickers need more relavent information:

    "Commie Planner's zone the north 40 for agriculture; farmer's in arms!"
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  24. #24

    Great ideas about SimCity

    Great ideas about SimCity. I think more control about the types of land uses and control over the physical developments (setbacks, flood plain, etc.) would be great. In addition, to tag along with one of my orginal detractors, it would be great to have a conversation with potential developers to allow the computer user to get the feeling of "cutting a deal" on a proposed project. Another idea would be to change the "view" in SimCity and bringing it down to the human eye level. Previsouly, SimCity tried a version of this with "Copter", which was a flying simulation in SimCity 2000. This never really worked with consumers and was quickly dropped. This human view would provide more of "feel" for a city instead of look of a city.

    In case you cared about my SimCity 4 problem, I broke down and got a "Strategy Guide for SimCity 4" to help me figure out the new simulation. Interesting read. Surprisingly, SimCity 4 was more complicated than I gave it credit. The key to SimCity 4 is "demand". The RCI (when you click on it) opens up to a new highly detailed demand graph that breaks down demand for specific zoned land uses by denisty and per capita (number of people who can use it). Interesting.

    Thank you to all the folks who provided positive support for my line of teaching.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian
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    Whiteshoes, while Sim City would gain lots with making the camera moveable or putting it on a street level, it would be very consuming in computer resources.
    I remember there was a game, that was called Streets of Sim City, where you could travel though cities by car, although it was a race/ car fighting game.

    Actually, for city building purposes, the current FOV (field of view)of SC4 is quite ok, but it should be great to have a secondary mode where you could travel through your city at street level. But since buildings are sprites (bi-dimensional image on the 3d terrain) and not 3d objects, a street level FOV would look terrible.

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