How Would You Design a Perfect City From Scratch?

Simulator games have been around for more than a decade that let you design and build a city to your exact specifications. What if you could design and build your own perfect city in real life? This question intrigued us, so we reached out to people in the construction industry to find out how they would design the perfect city. We received a few very interesting answers, and we wanted to share these with our readers in the construction industry. We hope you enjoy reading these as much as we did. If you have your own ideas on how to build the perfect city, please share them in the comments.

Location, location, location. Need ample supply of fresh water, need to be within a few hundred miles of source of hydro-electric power (until we have working fusion power), not in low-lying land so not subject to FEMA flood insurance, not too near the coast so no hurricane problems, not too far north so no major snow problems. Not in or near existing city with entrenched bureaucracies and political agendas and power bases. Need "low regulation" area, unlike (for instance) a certain far-western state, where any and all development of any kind is considered "bad" and routinely opposed by infestations of rabid NIMBYs. Need more or less level terrain, mostly earth rather than sand or rocks which are expensive to build on.

Need room for a major airport (I'll come back to that later), and want to be close to the intersection of a N-S and E-W interstate highway. River access nice, but not necessary.

Size: Can't be too small because the tax base will be inadequate to pay for municipal services. Can't be an "instant megacity" on the Chinese model ("We're going to put a city of 10MM people *here*, opening in six months."), too unwieldy and probably economically unsupportable. Probably want to start out with 50K to 100K population, need a commercial tax base because residential taxes will be too high without commercial property tax revenues.

Why: Needs to be a REASON for the city, it has to tie to some significant economic activity which will provide jobs with decent incomes. These economic activities MUST draw their funds/customers/clients/students/patients/contracts from *other areas*, you can't get rich by taking in each other's laundry. Major universities, large medical complexes, high tech manufacturing, or proximity to major government contractors or the government itself (Herndon, VA for example).

That's why we need the airport. Airports are transportation hubs (just like seaports were in the old days and railroads were in the 19th century) and jobs follow transportation hubs. People follow jobs, so there are your residents .

Infrastructure - proper water and sewer from day one. This is much easier to install before the area is developed. After there are buildings and streets, it is much more expensive. That means the city will need to be planned out in advance, probably in stages.

Underground utilities. Again, a little more expensive, but FAR superior from maintenance, durability and aesthetic viewpoints. Electricity underground as well as fiber optic instead of copper wiring, possibly city-wide or area wide Wi-Fi. Utility poles are ugly, are traffic hazards, and fall down every time the wind blows.

Wide roads, all major arterials four lanes with median (there is going to be some truck traffic if there is any manufacturing), and PLEASE synchronize the damn traffic lights. Right turn on red allowed. Logical street layout and street naming, unlike London (for instance) where the street name changes at EVERY intersection. Bicycle paths, hiking/nature trails. Everything to be handicapped accessible.

Light rail or (preferably) monorail connecting the airport, business districts and the outlying residential clusters. These should be electric (no smog!) and we do NOT want buses which obstruct traffic and create pollution. We'd like to minimize the use of internal combustion engines on a structural level, build them out at the beginning by making them mostly unnecessary, instead of imposing punitive legislation later, after people have become dependent on them. (As in Europe.)

Governance: Try to keep a "light government footprint". No BS building permits needed every time you want to change a light bulb. Clear, understandable building codes with an emphasis on "here's how" instead of "why you can't". Everything (codes, forms, etc.,) available on the city website as well as in person.

All elected officials to be absolutely nonpartisan forever (written into the city charter), because we see how well partisan politics is working for us on a national level.

Commercial and municipal property to be xeriscaped to minimize lawn mowing and watering needs. If you want to have a lawn for your home, have at it, but get a decent muffler for your mower.

Structures: NO WOOD!!!! Light gauge steel frame for residential structures (there's my construction experience showing), tip-up slab or steel faced with masonry for commercial buildings. Steel frame buildings are highly fire resistant, nothing eats (galvanized) steel, and won't rot. Wood is for hippies, steel is forever.

Steel roofs as well - shingles are short term, made from oil, and not structural. Steel roofs allow you to easily mount solar panels, and can be made to reflect UV and infrared, thus greatly reducing heat loads (and air conditioning bills) in the summer. All windows to be double glazed, low-e -these can pay for themselves in a year. Strong encouragement for energy-efficient construction techniques and equipment (heat pumps, high efficiency water heaters, etc.) written into the building codes.

As a side benefit, steel building construction is faster and usually much cleaner than an equivalent wood building. There's also no wood scrap which often just gets buried (cheaper than carting it off) to attract termites later. Steel scrap has value, so it gets recycled. Screw guns are MUCH quieter than hammers!

Finally, steel frame structures have significantly lower fire and windstorm insurance premiums. The ONLY things good about wood are it is easy to work with (so is steel, once you learn how) and wood is cheap - at first. Wood buildings cost more to heat, cool, maintain and insure than steel frame buildings, so other than the initial price, they have NO advantages. Steel frame buildings can look just as "nice" as traditional wood frame buildings, and when the big utility and insurance bills *don't* roll in, they start to look a whole lot nicer.

Mike Arman

Cities of the future will require no outside energy. Monolithic Concrete structures are indestructible, cheaper to build and 40% more energy efficient than any other construction due to no air leaks thereby reducing the cost of off the grid systems by 40%, cisterns & composting toilets will be the norm.

Instead of huge markets on every corner there will be local hydroponic grow rooms and vendors.

Transportation will be mass only with few personal vehicles, there would be no need.

Recycling depots would be numerous where people can cash in their waste.

David Pressler
President DRD Enterprises Inc of Davie

I was thinking about this just last night and I have to tell you...if you tried to "plan" to build a city you could never do it right. It just evolves the way it and demand by thousands of different entities. It is truly amazing.

Also, take a look at some of the planning an architect named Saarinen did on Arcologies...self-sustaining ecologically correct planned communities...but were any of them ever built? And take a look at the Birg. I'd love to see that. Then take a look at Disneyland and how they get rid of their trash...incredible.

An architect once told me that the first thing they learn to address in architecture school is "Where does the water go."

Robert Barrows
R.M. Barrows Advertising & Public Relations
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