Sim City and the Worst Ways to End Homelessness

The neoliberal mindset doesn’t compute with ethical public policy.

Rebecca Burns

In the newest version of SimCity, players must address homeless populations—and their strategies aren't always pretty. (Electronic Arts Inc.)

Mete­ors. Vol­ca­noes. Aliens. Any­one who grew up play­ing Sim­C­i­ty lived in fear of their metic­u­lous­ly planned metrop­o­lis being laid to waste by an act of God. Aside from this ele­ment of ran­dom­ness, how­ev­er, every­thing in the icon­ic 1990s com­put­er game pro­ceed­ed in order­ly fash­ion accord­ing to a few base­line prin­ci­ples of apo­lit­i­cal Sim urban plan­ning: If you build roads, des­ig­nate res­i­den­tial­ly zoned areas and click-and-drag in trash incin­er­a­tors, they will come. Sim­C­i­ty was a light­heart­ed, divert­ing dis­til­la­tion of the tech­no­crat­ic con­vic­tion that we don’t need to solve urban inequal­i­ty, just design bet­ter cities.

Have you tried decreasing social spending, then implementing a tax on alcohol. Then, those bums will have no choice but to get jobs. If that doesn’t work, try pressing Alt + F4

In the most recent ver­sion of the game, released in 2013, play­ers have to con­tend with a much thornier prob­lem: home­less Sims, who appear in-play when res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties are aban­doned. With this addi­tion, the game cross­es the uncan­ny val­ley — the vir­tu­al cities take on the grit­ti­er qual­i­ty of real ones, and the harsh strate­gies that play­ers pur­sue to man­age their home­less pop­u­la­tions begin to echo the actions of pol­i­cy­mak­ers attempt­ing to remove unde­sir­ables” from urban cen­ters to make way for tourism and commerce.

Mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary artist Mat­teo Bit­tan­ti, a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at IULM Uni­ver­si­ty in Milan, was struck in par­tic­u­lar by how play­ers’ ani­mos­i­ty towards the gen­der­less, two-dimen­sion­al fig­ures wan­der­ing through their cities mir­rored real-life prej­u­dices. He col­lect­ed thou­sands of mes­sages exchanged by Sim­C­i­ty users in online forums and cre­at­ed a 600-page, two-vol­ume book doc­u­ment­ing how they grap­pled with the ques­tion of home­less­ness. Below is an excerpt from Vol­ume 1 of How to get rid of homeless.”

02/04/2013 06:03:33


Hi every­one. I was won­der­ing if any­one had any info on home­less peo­ple in Sim­C­i­ty. If you want­ed a lot of home­less peo­ple in your city, what could you do to cre­ate this situation?

02/04/2013 06:46:29


First, have your banks sell high mort­gages to those who can­not afford them, then, just wait awhile. Next, raise tax­es to bail out the banks that own all that bad debt…and so on…

02/04/2013 08:31:57


The quick­er way is to name your city Wash­ing­ton D.C. ;-) 3:-) :>


03/06/2013 12:04:11


I was chug­ging along in my best city yet, only 40,000 res­i­dents but tons of mon­ey from tourism. I hadn’t payed much atten­tion to the fact my low income sims were unhap­py.. their build­ings went aban­doned, col­lect­ed a ton of home­less and then burned down (GEE THANKS). I wasn’t lucky enough to have the home­less trapped in their flam­ing build­ings so they’re ALL over 13 of my city doing home­less peo­ple stuff.

How do you reverse home­less­ness? Do I try to proved more low income hous­ing or jobs? More jails? Am I stuck with this problem?

03/06/2013 12:07:00


Elect a lib­er­al may­or so all your rich get taxed high­er and the home­less start slan­gin’ the big bucks on wel­fare. Wel­fare receip­i­ents receive 65k a year in ben­e­fits in the USA. The more you know.

03/06/2013 12:10:09


More police to shoot them down.

03/06/2013 12:16:14


Usu­al­ly cor­rect­ing the prob­lem that start­ed home­less­ness in the first place will resolve it. You will still need to build new res­i­den­tial hous­ing if all their old hous­es have been taken.

03/06/2013 12:16:34


I usu­al­ly drop a mete­or on them. Because being god rules.


03/09/2013 22:10:05


I don’t want low income sims, since my city is pret­ty much mid­dle and upper class

03/09/2013 22:10:39


be care­ful though, you need a healthy sup­ply of low wealth sims to work your high end jobs, unless you real­ly think that the the guy with a mas­ters degree and mul­ti­mil­lion inher­i­tance is going to push mops or work a register.

03/09/2013 22:26:49


one option, if the serv­er is work­ing ok, is to use anoth­er city to com­mute in low wealth work­ers to the city that you want to keep high wealth only.

03/09/2013 23:03:39


I am doing exact­ly that, bus­es from both of my friend’s cities arrive at my place filled with low wealth peo­ple. I just want to get rid of the unde­sir­ables (and stop them from liv­ing in my parks).


03/24/2013 22:18:55


My town has thou­sands of avail­able jobs in every wealth tier, yet peo­ple are aban­don­ing build­ings say­ing they don’t have enough mon­ey, and now I have home­less peo­ple roam­ing the streets. What to do?

03/24/2013 22:30:34


Have you tried decreas­ing social spend­ing, then imple­ment­ing a tax on alco­hol, mak­ing alco­hol less affordable.

Then, those bums will have no choice but to get jobs. If that doesn’t work, try press­ing Alt + F4


04/13/2013 00:35:13


In almost every city I have, the same prob­lem even­tu­al­ly sur­faces: home­less (or less advan­taged cit­i­zens, LACS I like to call them). These crit­ters (LACS) are eas­i­ly iden­ti­fi­able as Yel­low Page look­ing mas­cots haul­ing bags, usu­al­ly run­ning away from a build­ing you just bull­dozed, or often you can see the LACS on the streets search­ing for their next meal. Let’s be fair, I would go out to say that their exis­tence in any of my towns is less than welcomed.


Since the LACS can’t all phys­i­cal­ly exit a build­ing until after it’s been bull­dozed, I would EXPECT there to be some acci­dents. If I bull­doze a 10 sto­ry build­ing…, with, what would be NOTH­ING less than a trag­ic acci­dent”, those 40 some­thing home­less might not all make it out in time. The fore­man could say We tried, but we were too late”. Joe Sim, sit­ting at home watch­ing his tv hav­ing a beer after a long day at work can say: Wow, they tried, it makes sense.” It would be equal­ly trag­ic if say, all of the home­less were in the same build­ing that, by a total act of God (and the dis­as­ters menu).

I feel both of these are good solu­tions for a prob­lem that can real­ly get out of hand. I’ve spent sev­er­al years over­seas in Asia, and you know what I didn’t see? A cow, a stray dog, or stray cat. It makes pret­ty good sense, and depend­ing on how it’s adver­tised, Sim­dogs could real­ly catch on.

TL: DR version:

Bull­doze them or eat them.

04/13/2013 06:36:22


I like the home­less shel­ter idea myself. To get rid of your home­less right now, you have to starve them. Instead of eat­ing them, as you pro­pose – or starv­ing them, as cur­rent­ly need­ed – a home­less shel­ter and pos­si­bly some low income hous­ing should be the answer.


05/10/2013 05:31:26


how could i beat those peo­ple run­ning out off mon­ey there are enough jobs but not every­one goes to school and i guess that those peo­ple run out off mon­ey and that mess­ing up my com­plete city.

05/10/2013 06:45:30


Have some human­i­ty. It’s bad enough they’re home­less with­out you beat­ing on them.

Rebec­ca Burns is an award-win­ning inves­tiga­tive reporter whose work has appeared in The Baf­fler, the Chica­go Read­er, The Inter­cept and oth­er out­lets. She is a con­tribut­ing edi­tor at In These Times. Fol­low her on Twit­ter @rejburns.
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