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Zoning: Tips & Tricks

Zoning in SimCity seems pretty easy, draw some road, draw some zones... what can possibly go wrong? Since zones define where Sims live, work and shop they are central to how your city operates and bad zoning can lead to worker and shopper shortages, unemployment, economic problems and terrible traffic. In short, what can go wrong? Literally ... everything!

The following sections can be found in this article:

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  • Understanding the RCI Meter
  • Zoning & Traffic
  • Zoning & Pollution
  • Re-Zoning
  • Understanding the RCI Meter

    The RCI meter measures relative residential, commercial and industrial zoning demand. A summary version is displayed at all times in game at the bottom of your screen showing 3 bars which gives a general indication of the demand for each type of zone. You can get a more detailed version when you select the zoning tab which shows demand for individual wealth levels for residential and commercial plus the industrial demand.

    How zone demand is determined

    Demand for different zones is not a reflection of the volume of Sims, businesses or industries that want to move into your city (or the region), but rather is based on the needs of the other zones.

    Demand for one zone is generated by the other two zones. The more equal your RCI demand, the better balanced your zones are.

    A demand for industrial zones means that existing residential zones want jobs, a commercial demand could mean those residents want shops, or that industrial zones want somewhere to ship their freight to, if your residential demand is high then your industries and shops need workers.

    Why industrial demand is not displayed by tech/wealth level

    Industrial buildings in SimCity require workers of ALL wealth levels irrespective of their tech level. Medium and high tech industries will want those workers to be skilled (educated), but they will still require a mixture of wealth levels. In that respect demand for industrial zoning is just that - your city wants more industrial buildings, the tech level is largely irrelevant to the level of demand.

    Interpreting the RCI meter

    Each bar shows two different demand levels, the brighter color is the demand for that zone type within your city, the darker color shows the regional demand for that zone.

    I find it is helpful to think of the RCI as being not 5 single bars, but as two sets of 5, as demonstrated in the illustration below. Because it is presented as a 2D chart in game, we can only assume that if there's no additional regional demand for a particular zone type, that it is the same as the local demand in your city.

    This is a snapshot of the RCI meter from one of my cities. I have created this 3D representation to separate out the region demand from the local demand. In this snapshot I have some demand for all zones, but it looks like I need more medium wealth residences to buy goods from my medum wealth shops and to work in my industry. It looks like my industries need some high wealth residents too. There's not a lot of low wealth commercial demand in my city, but plenty in the region. Perhaps if I zone some low wealth commercial, add some mass transit and a gambling house, I might start getting some low wealth tourists?

    Responding to the RCI meter

    A lot of players malign the SimCity RCI meter for being mis-leading and unhelpful but to be entirely truthful I'm not sure why?

    I've found that it generally reflects the demand that is expressed in the population panel and what is going on in the city. A high demand for low wealth residential in the RCI is confirmed by many unfilled low wealth jobs in the population data and/or lots of low wealth commercial shops with unsold goods. An increase in industrial tech levels usually prompts a sudden increase in medium and high wealth residential demand because these factories need more medium and high wealth educated workers. A sudden influx of tourists medium wealth tourists into the city, or a big new area of medium wealth residential will see medium wealth commercial demand rise etc etc.

    I'm not suggesting you religiously follow the RCI meter; for one thing it's far too vague and only shows general trends and the population details panel is much more informative. But it does allow you to keep an eye out for emerging imbalances at a glance. If your residential demand suddenly skyrockets then perhaps it's because some industrial areas have moved to high density and you have major worker shortages. A big drop in commercial demand could be a warning sign that your gambling specialization has started to fail for some reason. Keeping an eye on this meter can give you useful feedback about your city, once you know what it's behaviour means!

  • Not enough Industrial workers = High Residential demand
  • Not enough Shoppers = High Residential demand
  • Not enough Jobs = High Industrial demand
  • Not enough Shops = High Commercial demand
  • And of course the reverse of these is also true. Low residential demand means that factories and shops have enough employees and customers, low industrial demand means there's low unemployment and low commercial demand means that shoppers' needs are being met. That all sounds good BUT remember that low demand can also be a sign of stagnation, if your city is still small with low demand then low demand means your city isn't growing. If one area has low demand but one or both of the others has high demand, then it shows your city's zones are not balanced.

    Zoning & Traffic

    Zoning patterns and traffic have a reflexive relationship and how you zone can often be a hugely important factor in how well your road network copes, regardless of how well designed it is. Good zoning can also help a bad road network to function better.

    How zoning can generate bad traffic

    Zoning can often generate serious traffic problems when zones of one type are too far away from zones of other types.

    If you have large contiguous areas of zones then Sims living in the heart of the residential areas will have to drive a long way out to get to the nearest commercial area to shop and to the nearest industrial area to work. The larger the number of Sims making long journeys on the road at any given time, the more traffic you have. Whilst there are positive aspects to this approach to zoning, it's easy to keep industrial pollution away from residential areas, keeping all your commercial together in a central business district seems realistic and aesthetically pleasing BUT the resulting worker and shopper shortages, unemployment and traffic jams make it a bad idea.

    Zoning to reduce traffic

    Zoning to reduce traffic means trying to reduce journey times for as many Sims as possible by mixing zones together in smaller areas (micro communities).

    If you zone a small area of industrial and commercial within a residential neighborhood, then most of the Sims living there will have shopping and employment on their doorstep without having to drive anywhere.

    Creating self-sustaining micro-communities means most Sims will not have to spend lots of time on the road to get to shops and workplaces

    Unfortunately there isn't a perfect ratio of number of zoning slots of each type to put together in a neighborhood and even if you happen to hit upon an ideal arrangement, any changes in density, wealth or tech levels of the various buildings can upset the balance and require changes to the proportions of the zones.

    For example: 2 low density factories and some low density shops might work great next to a row of 20 low density homes, but if the factory increases to 1 high density building, suddenly it needs 1620 workers, instead of the 52 the 2 small factories needed. If the shops in an area all upgrade to medium wealth, but the houses don't, they'll have no customers for their medium wealth merchandise and will go out of business. On the other hand if the 20 residences turn into tower blocks first, then you've got hundreds of Sims who now have to find a job elsewhere.

    In short, patient fine-tuning of zones in small areas is key to taking huge quantities of traffic off your city's streets regardless of how good or bad your road network may be. If you can develop wealth and tech levels and re-zone these smaller communities over time to keep them in balance then you'll have not only a successful city, but one that has much better traffic flow!

    For more information:

  • Roads & Mass Transit
  • Roads & Mass Transit: Road Layout
  • Roads & Mass Transit: Upgrading & Zone Density
  • Roads & Mass Transit: Mass Transit Tips & Problems
  • Zoning & Pollution

    The downside of creating micro communities is that it does put industrial pollution, as well as negative land value influences, close to residential areas. Creating one huge industrial zone all down the side of the city that the wind exits does reduce air pollution falling on your city, however it is important to remember that air pollution does tend to be karmic, in the sense that you can let it blow out into the region rather than your city, but air pollution in the region will increase either way and your city will suffer with it just as much as all the other regional cities.

    I feel there's also an alternative argument to the micro community approach, which is the same amount of pollution is generated either way, but at least small industrial zones spread it out, making ground pollution in particular, less intense and quicker to clean up.

    Placing parks will reduce local air pollution and mitigate against falling land value.

    For more information:

  • Zoning: Industrial
  • Parks: Happiness, Wealth & Land Value
  • Parks: Pollution
  • Re-Zoning

    Re-zoning, which is the process of de-zoning the current zoning and applying a different one that has higher demand or is missing from that area of the city, seems to be a concept that is entirely alien to a huge number of players.

    On so many SimCity forums and sites I see players complaining about the RCI meter telling them there's a huge demand for residential (or whatever) but they can't do anything about it because they have run out of space...

    Just because you've run out of 'new' empty land to zone, doesn't mean you can't re-zone existing land to improve your zoning balance. Need new shops for your Sims? Factories moaning about lack of workers? Re-zone, it's not only possible, it's necessary!

    Really it isn't rocket science (I asked a rocket scientist just to be sure); if you have a huge demand for residential and no demand for industrial then de-zone some industrial, bulldoze the buildings in that area and re-zone it as residential. Sure there might be a bit of land pollution, you may need to add a park or two and maybe also zone some nearby shopping, but it will contribute towards that high residential demand by being... you know... a new residential zone.

    In conclusion: if an old zone isn't 'working' then get rid of it, put in a new one!

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