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Every time I play Simcity 4, my cities usually end up broke and overpolluted by the time they reach 100k citizens. What's the best way to try and get a happy, healthy, and profitable large city?

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Good question! Last time I played I kept running out of cash within 10 minutes :D And yet I was doing okay in SimCity 2000 –  sippa Jul 13 '10 at 11:37
Almost all of my successful cities ended up being ones surrounded by broke, over-polluted failed cities -- to which I could export all my pollution and garbage. :) –  ZoogieZork Jul 13 '10 at 12:40
Actually, now that I remember it, one thing that definitely helped was planting lots and lots of trees. It was tedious and time-consuming but eventually had a significant effect on pollution which in turn brought in high-tech industry which brought in more money. –  ZoogieZork Jul 13 '10 at 16:11
Do you have Rush Hour? SimCity 4 is a rather incomplete game without it. –  cowgod Jul 13 '10 at 17:25
Why am I reading this question ? I have no time to play. Arrrg I can't resist, I'm going to play... Nice question by the way :-) –  Luc M Dec 30 '10 at 16:33

11 Answers 11

up vote 38 down vote accepted

There are two ways I commonly break my cities:

Spending Money On Things Before Sims Want Them

Sims want things... schools, hospitals, parks... but they want some things more than others, and if you build them in the wrong order you are WASTING YOUR MONEY, because they don't have their full effect. On the quick reference guide, as well as buried deep in the Sim City Manual under the desirability chart, is possibly the most important information to the game that no one knows:

What (Sim City) Sims Want

Although you can’t directly affect the types of occupants that develop in your city, you do have indirect control by affecting the desirability of the zoned areas of your city. The following actions can be taken to improve the desirability for each of these occupant types: alt text

This chart is ORDERED. Residential Sims want police more than hospitals. Dirty/Manufacturing industry wants police, then shorter fright trips, then NOTHING else, they're happy. After you've taken care of the basics that every zone wants, power and water for higher density/$$$, take care of problems in this order and you'll spend less money, attract more Sims, and make more money. I'll repeat once more:

I think this is the most important info people are missing to building a great city.

Not Replacing Dying Utilites

The utilities buildings, water pumps, power plants, and incinerators age over time, more for the more they are used. They gradually cost more to maintain and have lower output. Eventually, you are paying out the nose for nothing. Replace them as soon as you can.

Special note, if you are using Waste To Energy incinerators, turn them down to producing no power and have them only dispose of waste. This prevents the plant from aging in any noticeable amount, and you can then buy your power from a cheaper plant. The downside is that your power budget will not be at 100%, so 1) new plants will start at whatever the budget is set to overall, and 2) there is a chance of fire on all power lines. So just don't use any... use low density commercial zone instead. Same power spread, no cost, possible income.

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Arrrrgggg Your link ends to The requested page could not be found. –  Luc M Nov 4 '11 at 2:07
@LucM Sorry about that. I found the link a year ago. However, I made sure all the info relevant to this topic is copied on this page, just in case! –  WillfulWizard Nov 6 '11 at 1:00

Unfortunately, the game is pretty brutal out of the box. The distance a sim is willing to travel for work is rather pathetic, which means you have to build your commercial and industrial zones very near your residential areas.

Try using the Network AddOn Mod (NAM) to round out the types of roads you can build and increase the distance sims are willing to commute to work.

Also, Simtropolis is the single largest online community for SimCity and they have thousands of helpful users on their forums with invaluable information to help you succeed at city building (not to mention the Simtropolis Exchange (STEX), which has tens of thousands of user created buildings, models and mods you can download to enhance the game).

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Good answer, but accepted the other one as it doesn't require installing mods. –  Macha Jul 15 '10 at 14:14
@Macha: Half the fun of SimCity is in the mods. :) –  RCIX Oct 18 '10 at 19:17
@RCIX: But knowing how to play the game without them is more useful. –  Macha Oct 19 '10 at 9:57
@Macha: i always found that stock sim city was a bit drab, so i only played with mods :) –  RCIX Oct 20 '10 at 8:44
@RCIX Know where I could download the latest version of NAM? The current link in the answer now appears to be down. –  galacticninja Nov 16 '12 at 12:47

I've not played in ages, but I seem to remember that the trick was to not become too attached to any particular segment. That is, if you spent a lot of effort building-up a big commercial area, let's say, then it starts to falter, be willing to bulldoze it down and make something different, if that's "what the game wants."

I also seem to recall that making lots & lots of "mini-cities" -- neighborhoods that were nearly self contained, with a nice balance of parks & rec, industry, commercial ("strip malls" :) and residential seemed to work well. It helped cut down on commute-time, which I think my little sims liked :)

But, again, you have to be pretty heavy-handed with the bulldozer (not all at once!), and willing to make constant adjustments as this or that area gets too much THIS and not enough THAT. In general, I'd say that 10% of any given city was ALWAYS "under construction", and that 10% moved around a LOT.

Also: I think it helps to always repair damage (disaster or rot) as quickly as possible, and spend the money on police & fire services.

Hmmm, now you got me itchin' for some 'City -- gonna have to dig that out! :)

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Argh, reading this question and the answers is making me want to play again...

That said, though it's been a couple years since I've picked it up, have you ever tried making a smaller city adjacent to your current one which functions as your area for dumping garbage, factories, etc. The last time I played, I tried that strategy and it kept my city very clean and I had a pretty happy population. Run power lines from the smaller city to your large one and have some roads for dump trucks to head out. I found that it made a pretty huge difference in my pollution rate.

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Me want to play again too. It's time for a new SimCity I think :) –  Drake Jul 13 '10 at 20:24

Try to be simple. In order to build a large city first plan the layout; in large cities there is always a problem of traffic. After some years of establishment build a complete education system, and try to balance your budget. Budget the school and museums to keep the check on expenditure. Now build effective hospitals and police protection. If this is a residential area there is hardly any need to build a fire station, but if required build only one at the centre.

These steps would help you to build a large city with high skyscrapers for both residential and commercial zones. If you can build landmarks it increase the desirability of commercial area. Do build parks at regular intervals, this would keep the desirability for the high zones to certain extent.

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Just be patient and plan ahead...

Also, check out the desirability of your zones often to see changing trends on demand. Education pays a lot after a while.

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Yeah, Patience is the key to Simcity... –  Hendrik Beenker Feb 7 '13 at 9:18

There are several strategies for getting your initial city started. I like to start with a medium-sized tile first that has a small tile adjacent to it. Locate all the dirty stuff (coal power plant, landfill) at the far side of the tile from where the neighboring small tile is. Start your city on the other side from that and adjacent to the small tile. Locate your water facilities near your nascent town as well, away from the dirty stuff. Dirty industries can be located by the dirty stuff, but provide good transportation to get there OR locate industry a moderate distance (center of map?) from your town so that the Sims don't have to travel too far for work but res/comm growth is not adversely affected by the pollution.

However you start your town off, grow it to a certain size where it is well self-sustaining. Just before you save and exit to the region, expand your water supplies. A good time to do this is when you are about to outgrow your water towers or they have aged and need replacing. Roughly double your water capacity then save and exit to region. Go to the small tile and make that where you concentrate your dirty industries, power generation and waste disposal. Zone this tile entirely or almost entirely industrial. Throw in some coal-fired power plants, enough to generate power for your first city plus all the energy-intensive industry plus some excess (a good target is to be using 70 to 75% of your power capacity). Make sure the transport network is strong, possibly including a connecting freeway and definitely trains (with a freight station at the shared border). Lay pipes and buy water from your first city. Get this town on its feet then save and exit to region.

Go back to your first town. Reduce or eliminate the dirty industry in this city so that your Sims are going over the border to work at the factories. Sell water to your industrial city. This is a crucial point. Leverage your cities' strengths so each can profit from revenue streams that become more critical as the income from easy growth tapers off. That is, have your clean city sell water to your dirty industrial city and ship its garbage there as well. Have your dirty industrial city sell cheap electricity (from burning coal and garbage) to your clean town. Your nascent high-tech city can profit greatly from selling water, as the polluting industries need a LOT of H2O. This money can be used to get your expensive educational system on its feet without causing a death spiral for your budget. Go back and forth a few times between these cities and they will continue to grow. Convert the first city to a high-tech industry city. Your third and perhaps fourth cities should border on the dirty city as well. From the start these cities can be targeted for high tech, or they can be developed to take advantage of spillover development from your successful first city with a growing high tech industry. By now your first city should be large and definitely high tech; start cities bordering on it, they will need their own dirty towns as well.

As you begin to develop a megalopolis there are other issues that will crop up, such as intercity transport links and the failure of your dirty towns as development wants to spill over into them and demand for dirty industries decreases. But that's another post.

You'll notice that the profitability of development is indicated by color. Colorful buildings are producing a good amount of tax revenue. Grayer buildings are not producing optimal tax revenue. Black buildings are doing nothing. In particular, if you find you have a water crisis and as a result several buildings are black because they are not provided with water, they can remain that way long after you have reprovided the water. This could mean that you simply have the wrong kind of zoning for the stage your city is at; demolish and rezone, or simply demolish and see what happens. Sometimes all it takes to get some kind of tax revenue is to take out the old building. If it's industrial, it could be that your industrial area is ready for high-tech but it isn't going to develop unless you get rid of that unsightly abandoned factory. Demolish those black industrial buildings and watch the development flourish.

One tactic I like to use in medium and large tile cities is to develop a certain area for whatever density (usually low or med). I try to put all of this development within the radius of a hospital, police and fire. On the edges of this development, put all that vacant land to work with industrial development! Then as you grow the area, redevelop the industrial to res/comm and push the industrial out to the new edges of the development.

Finally, if you find yourself in a bad budget situation... crank up taxes on one, two, or all three of the main categories and run up a big surplus to fund whatever it is you need to do. The damage to development seems to be only temporary.

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Here are a few tricks from playing SimCity 2000 and 3000.

  • Build a balanced city: you can happily mix the different kind of zoning.
  • Build a balanced city: no crime, recreation, schools, jobs, transport, power, etc.
  • Zone wisely: not to big, not to small
  • Power, water, transport if a zone has neither it'll never grow. You can test this by zoning and area and check which squares are actually growing.
  • Clean up dead zones.
  • Cheat. It is a shame that the porntip guzzardo ardo of sim city 2000 that showered you in cash now only gives a message saying that money does not grow on broccolis but they are still a number of cheat codes around to help you build a great city without bothering too much about the money.
  • Have fun...
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for garbage, use the waste to energy plant but put the slider to zero. the garbage problem will be gone. also, one is not enough as your city expands, always check your garbage status in the hud constantly.

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I usually build networks of three cities, as follows:

  • One for medium-high wealth residential, high wealth commercial services, all commercial offices and some hi tech industry
  • One for hi-tech industry and some low-medium wealth commercial services
  • One for low wealth residential, dirty and manufacturing industry and some low-medium wealth commercial services

This tactic allows me to specifically tailor my civics to the exact needs of the city, and to utilise some cities' strengths to benefit the other cities. Before I go any further I should probably point out that I do have rush hour installed.

I like to develop my cities using squares of blocks, if that makes sense. I usually make 6x6 blocks, surrounded by road, and make a 5x5 square of these, to make 25 blocks total. I put several of these squares in my cities and I use some form of higher capacity transport in between. I usually use avenues for this, and zone medium density commercial next to these avenues as they will be traffic thoroughfares. For mass transit I generally use a subway station in the middle of these blocks, with a bus stop or two next to it and another 4-8 bus stops spread out around the block. To encourage more traffic flow on your avenues as opposed to local streets, you could place streets, as these are slower so less people want to travel on them, however I tend to use plenty of one way roads which just inconvenience drivers trying to take a short cut.

Start making your first city, the on with medium-high wealth residential, high wealth commercial services, all commercial offices and some hi tech industry by zoning some medium density residential area. You will first need to allow development of some low wealth residential to help get the city on its feet, as well as some dirty and manufacturing industry. When zoning the residential using the squares method above, I usually leave the centre block clear to place things like libraries and clinics, but don't start placing any civics until the city is on its feet and you want to start bringing in more wealthy citizens.

When zoning the industry, don't worry too much about traffic or any fancy zoning method, as it will all be demolished shortly. Place a coal fired power plant in the industrial area for now. Make sure there is ample power and water coverage around the city, then start bringing in the medium-high wealth residents. Do this by placing police stations, some basic education and a hospital. At this point you should start zoning medium density commercial to provide your more wealthy sims with jobs, keeping the commercial areas near the centre of the map to reduce the average commute time. Up the taxes on the lower wealth citizens, and lower them slightly for the higher wealth. The reason I try to keep this city primarily medium-high wealth is because I know I will get a higher tax income from them, so I can give a full education and healthcare system to them. Increase taxes for dirty and manufacturing industry as well as for low-medium wealth commercial services. When your budget is in a strong position give full education and healthcare. Also make sure appropriate mass transit networks are in place.

Make a second city for hi-tech industry. The reason I don't generally build too much of it in my wealthier city is because while residential and commercial towers can grow upwards, all types of industry can really only grow outwards, so the land demands in the other city would be too great. Purchase water from your first city. Zone high density industrial in the square pattern above, again making sure there is adequate mass transit, linked up to the mass transit system of your first city. You can either place a coal fired power plant in a corner somewhere or buy power from the first city - either way these arrangements are only temporary. Taxes are very important in this city - ensure nothing grows except for high tech industry and perhaps slow low-medium wealth commercial services if you wish. This city won't get a huge amount of demand upfront, so save and exit to region and go back to your first city.

If your budget is in a strong position in this city, you might consider removing the dirty industry and switching to renewable energy, if you have unlocked solar. If you have unlocked nuclear this is even better but these arrangements will only be temporary so don't fret too much about it. If there is more residential demand zone some more medium density residential, if there is more commercial demand rezone some of the commercial area near the centre of your city into high density to allow development of skyscrapers.

Now start your third city. This will be for low wealth residential and for dirty and manufacturing industry. This city will be fairly self contained, but it will be critical to the survival of the other cities eventually. Buy water from your first city. Zone some area for high density residential and high density industrial using the same square pattern, placing high density commercial on the avenues. Taxes are important in this city. Have all taxes at 20% except those for low wealth residential, low and medium wealth commercial services and dirty and manufacturing industry. Use a coal fired power plant to provide this city with power (you will need many more eventually but start with one). Place connecting power lines towards your other two cities and sell them power. Also zone landfill and take their rubbish for them. When the budget is looking ok, place a police station and some cheap forms of education (college, library and museum).

At this point go back to your original city and remove the industry and coal fired power plant(s), or if you have already done so remove the renewable power plants you built to replace it. By now all your cities should have a strong-ish economy. if one of your cities has a bad looking budget, adjust neighbour deals to provide that city with more income. Remember, if you can place a water pump and sell all that water to a neighbour, you will be making a profit. The same goes for power plants.

Another way you can fix a budget is by rerouting essential services. Say, for example, the budget of your hi-tech industrial city is in a bad way. Instead of selling power directly from your industrial city to your wealthy city, buy plenty of excess power in the hi-tech city and ell the surplus on to the wealthy city. The hi-tech city will profit of this transition.

I hope this helps! This should help you get a region started, but after you have some sort of base just keep playing around, see what else works :-)

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My city reached 400k yesterday. You need to put all tax rates on zero and put the dirty industry on 20%. But remember to put 8 streets of buisness beside every 4 streets of homes.

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... what? How are you going to make money if your tax rates on RCI is zero except for dirty, where the demand would drop like a stone when you push the tax to 20%? This doesn't make any sense. –  Private Pansy May 21 '12 at 0:59
This is only possible using cheats, so how is that considered "healthy"? –  Hendrik Beenker Feb 7 '13 at 9:17

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