To this day, the metropolis-building simulator Cities: Skylines is still the only game I can get my family of truckers and infrastructure workers interested in. Maybe it’s the freedom to lay down sewage pipes however you like, or watch trailer trucks roll off the interstate at an efficient pace. Whatever it is, apparently I’ve only been looking at Cities: Skylines on a surface level, because YouTuber “donoteat01” has blown my mind when it comes to tying city-building to the history of politics.
Originally reported on by Kotaku, donoteat01, or Justin Roczniak, is a self-described “disgusting neckbearded STEMlord with a degree in civil engineering,” but what’s fascinating about his YouTube channel is how he’s managed to turn a popular video game into a tool for explaining the world of politics and how it impacts the cities and suburbs we live in. Cities aren’t just built on an empty plot of land, like how each new game begins in Cities: Skylines, they’re built on top of genocide, of political and social discrimination, and on the whims of the wealthy.
Roczniak’s main series is “Franklin,” a multi-part saga of a city’s origins as a Native American settlement with wigwam huts, all the way to a mid-20th century ‘burb looking to push for labor reform as of its latest episode. I’m more interested in his side series, Cities: Skylines: Power, Politics, and Planning where he explains the aforementioned impact in individual case scenarios.
The most powerful of these one-offs is his episode “Urban Freeways,” which goes through the process by which a growing city determines where a major highway will cut through. Of course, the wealthy of the city want to be as far away as possible from the noise and pollution, so it’s the poor communities classified as “ghettos” (despite having a modest level of income and crime pre-highway) who get the knife.
Roczniak illustrates this impact by periodically pausing to highlight random houses and telling short tales of the people who live inside. There’s the Catholic church that gets demolished, sending its congregation to the suburbs to follow their favorite priest. There’s a shopkeep named Mohammed who spent most of his savings on a 15-year lease after immigrating, only to have his plans for purchasing the building dashed. There’s a ton of these stories, and as someone not too far from Chicago’s planned expansion of the southern highways, I can’t help but sympathize with these not-so-imaginary characters.
Roczniak clearly leans left in his politics, but the way he criticizes modern liberalism while illustrating its impact on cities is equally profound.
Check out Roczniak’s channel if you’re a politics or history buff. It’s a darkly hilarious yet relentlessly brutal exploration of society.