Software and the City

Advanced city simulation software is helping urban planners look decades ahead and make tomorrow's cities more livable

7 min read

23 December 2003--It's a calm late afternoon in the city, when all of a sudden a giant reptilian creature appears, crushing cars, shattering building façades, and leaving a trail of havoc as it advances along downtown streets. Those who have ever played the game ”SimCity,” in which the user becomes an urban planner and has to manage the growth of a virtual metropolis, know how tempting it is to evoke Godzilla's fury to shake things up a little when nothing much interesting is happening in town.

For a group of researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle, however, simulating cities is more than just a game. They invented UrbanSim, the most sophisticated city modeling and simulation software to date--a system that could not only help people see decades into the future but also one that could play a role in settling rancorous political disputes. The program simulates urban growth and lets users test different planning scenarios, much like a real-world version of ”SimCity.” You can't summon raging giant reptiles, but you can forecast the effects of deploying new highways, restricting construction over wetland areas, or doubling parking prices downtown, for example.

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Why Functional Programming Should Be the Future of Software Development

It’s hard to learn, but your code will produce fewer nasty surprises

11 min read
A plate of spaghetti made from code
Shira Inbar

You’d expectthe longest and most costly phase in the lifecycle of a software product to be the initial development of the system, when all those great features are first imagined and then created. In fact, the hardest part comes later, during the maintenance phase. That’s when programmers pay the price for the shortcuts they took during development.

So why did they take shortcuts? Maybe they didn’t realize that they were cutting any corners. Only when their code was deployed and exercised by a lot of users did its hidden flaws come to light. And maybe the developers were rushed. Time-to-market pressures would almost guarantee that their software will contain more bugs than it would otherwise.

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