This development is bound to make urban designers a little uncomfortable. “Betaville” is a new tool that lets you do anything to New York City–move buildings around, add structures, change the coastline. I’m all for democratizing the design process and anything that eliminates my use of 3-D modeling programs is a God-send. However, I think the sample design is a poor choice, demonstrating a typical disconnect academia and the powers of development. It’s also a reflection of what the average citizen perceives as “good development”–more apartments, shops, and middle-class amenities. A volunteer for the group that designed Betaville created  “an add-on to Battery Park that he calls ‘Liberty Piers.’ The  homage  to  the Statue of  Liberty extends Manhattan using landfill to create a massive new five-pointed park and a mixed residential-commercial development.”

But a mixed-use residential-commercial developments in one of the most storm-surge prone areas of New York City? Sea level is predicted to rise 5 inches by 2030 in New York City, which could cause up to 10 foot storm surges. The Museum of Modern Art dedicated a summer-long studio with architects and urban designers to create plans to mitigate predicted sea level rise, leading to the exhibit “Rising Currents.” The designs demonstrated that reclamation of marshland and unique storm water management will be needed in Lower Manhattan, not new developments that would be inundated in a hurricane. I visited the NYC Office of Emergency Management today (funded by the US Department of Homeland Security), and contingency plans for hurricanes and storm surges is one of their top priorities. Here are the flood maps for hurricane categories 1-4. It’s not pretty.

Don’t we have enough people trying to develop New York City with “mixed-use residential-commercial” developments? Here’s a much cooler, environmentally-conscious and academically applicable design for Lower Manhattan by  Architecture Research Office and dlandstudio:

Can I build things with Betaville that aren’t buildings or structures?

Get in touch with the author @untappedmich.

5 thoughts on “New SimCity-Like Tool for Urban Planning: Good Concept, Bad Application?

  1. There’s also not nearly enough development program in that funky Dubai-like landfill intervention of their’s to justify the cost. And what would the Army Corps of Engineers say?

    1. Agreed–pretty sure that landfill intervention would violate several environmental regulations including the Coastal Zone Management Program in NYC, Flood Insurance Program, FEMA/Army Corps of Engineers hazard mitigation programs and initiatives in place by the NYC Office of Emergency Management.

  2. As long as we’re playing with creative ways to improve the city, how about creating high rise parks in poor neighborhoods, so poor kids have the same green space opportunities as their affluent counterparts? My play-deck in elementary school was an enclosed 4-floor cage, but I didn’t realize that was odd until I was much older. Anyway, as long as its a computer game, I’m all about exploring Jetsons-style approaches to urban design.

    1. I completely agree. I think those types of interventions are possible using Betaville but I wonder whether they are emphasizing new constructions instead of retrofitting, which is actually more relevant to design discussions these days. but it is certainly less relevant to real estate developers.

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