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Most of the time I'm aiming for big, high-density RCI zones but sometimes I want to build smaller areas that can't blossom into huge pollution spewing factories. Can I limit the density with clever use of space or roads?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

In addition to the density of the road, as mentioned by Raven Dreamer, the density of a zone is also restricted by space.

This means that if you build your roads too close together, the maximum density of the zone will be limited, resulting in a 'not enough room to expand' message when you bring up the information for a particular zone.

I especially noticed this when building circular roads, as getting them too close to each other will prevent the density of the zone from increasing due to lack of space.

enter image description here

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Yes, the density is strictly related to the type of road you have bordering the zoning. (Meaning Avenues give the highest density).

If you want to restrict things to a lower density, simply use smaller roads.

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There is also a tool that allows you to upgrade your road types. I missed that in my first play-through. You can't just attempt to build a higher road-type on the existing one you have to use the upgrade tool. – Halfwarr Mar 6 '13 at 5:35

There is one more way to stop the growth, in addition to those already mentioned. In this iteration of SimCity, de-zoning tool does not destroy the building, but prevents a new one appearing in its place, whether it happens after demolition, or as a result of automatic upgrade.

enter image description here

As can be seen from the above screen shot,

Removing zoning from under buildings will stop them from increasing in density.

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Screen shot courtesy of @Halfwarr. I had to go pester others, because SimCity does not allow changing interface language, and otherwise some complain about non-English screenshots. – theUg Mar 6 '13 at 5:25

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