I'm rereading The Death and Life of Great American Cities, for the first time in six years or so, and it's really making me want to reinvent SimCity.
Right now I'm on a chapter talking about how parks cannot be applied as magical talismans to raise property values and as that is how they were used in SimCity, I started to think about others ways in which it could be improved. One of the major things you would need is to simulate individual humans, down to their daily comings and goings, their interests, a rough sketch of what they see, and so on. Now computers have improved tremendously in the last years, but I'm still not sure that they can get to that level of detail. It would depend of course upon how many simplifications could be made, but in order to simulate the city in the level of detail that would make things talked about in The Death and Life of Great American Cities relevant, the program would need to have many more details, the different types of businesses instead of simply 'commercial' 'residential', model what times of day people are going places, cultural differences between people, etc.
Now, at a more basic level there are things that I've been thinking should be improved in SimCity for a long time in order to make it possible to do more realistic simulations of cities. There needs to be an ability to layout streets in any direction and not be restricted to a grid. There needs to be mixed use buildings that are seen in cities, where in one building there are commercial stores on the ground floor and residential apartments above. Furthermore, the basic plan of it costing money to zone out land always seemed a bit unrealistic to me. What of the pressures brought to bear in trying to keep people form expanding to new areas? Either trying to prevent sprawl in America or dealing with growing slums in India. There's never even been bums in SimCity!
Bear in mind that I haven't played SimCity since SimCity 4, not the Rush Hour expansion set, nor SimCities Societies. It is quite possible that some of the thoughts I've had have begun to be implemented, but certainly nowhere near the level that I would like to see.
There is also the point that SimCity is designed as a game, and that bogging things down in extreme levels of details might lessen the fun. I admit that that is a risk, but it can be overcome. It is not the case that someone playing such a game would be exposed to all these details, but for me, it would be more fun if I had the option to get down to the level where I could see them.
As for what those details will all need to be, well, I'll think more on the subject and get back to you.