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How to Create a Realistic Transition to Agricultural Zoning

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Hello All,

Looking for some tips and advice on how to build a realistic transition from light residential to agricultural zoning on the edges of a city. I typically start a city by zoning all Agriculture and then working from the middle outward decreasing density as I get further from the middle. The result is usually light residential and/or industrial zoning bordering directly onto agriculture. Would you leave a gap of trees like a Green Belt instead? The snapshots provided are for a larger city I am starting so I didn't bother to zone the middle sections as AG as I plan to prezone Res and Commercial in this case.

Thank you for your suggestions, looking forward to it.

Kensington-Nov. 5, 061532968596.png

Kensington-Nov. 5, 061532968626.png

Kensington-Nov. 5, 061532968640.png

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Other places can have what's called an exurban area. Normally, residential settlement is sparse, with land lots much bigger than those found in suburban areas, the additional gaps between these small buildings are filled with a mix of forest, pasture or agriculture. Other layouts include dispersed housing where the soil and water conditions allowed for farmers to work independently. Other places might have clustering of population into small villages, usually around water sources, rural road intersections or in pockets of non flooding land. In exurban or rural/urban fringe areas with low agriculture, the development follows a pattern called "ribbon development": buildings are always placed fronting a local road or otherwise a short distance from it (maybe a few blocks at most), exemplifying an example of induced demand in which added road infrastructure stimulates urban development where it's not necessarily intended.

Here are some examples from Puerto Rico:


Lajas valley, a semiarid area in which agriculture happens thanks to an irrigation canal system. Houses concentrate in village-like communities near road intersections.



Outskirts of Aguadilla, Moca and Isabela, northwestern Puerto Rico. Here there's a mix of dispersed houses, pastures, cropland, isolated industrial facilities and quarries.



Garrochales, an exurban village between the municipalities of Arecibo and Barceloneta. Here the local roads and the less favorable terrain (wetland to the north and limestone hills to the south) have promoted a ribbon development pattern along highway PR-682.



Buena Vista ward in Bayamón. This hilly area in the outskirts of the San Juan metropolitan area has a mixture of dispersed settlement intermixed with forests. Some notable land uses in the vicinity include the La Plata reservoir, the Forest Park and the encroachment of big box retail and fancy suburbs chasing cheap land.


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This is a fascinating topic, and valuable insight has already been shared by @CorinaMarie and @Dragonxander in terms of real world examples.

It really makes concepts of city planning relatable for SC4, since to aspire for realism it helps by comparing with actual places. To see how land usage varies, and by doing so it usually creates these smooth natural urban to rural transitions at the fringe area.

A piece of advice I'd like to touch on is about density.

I'm someone who used to predominately lay out my zone parcels in square blocks with little to no land usage variation between the CBD and suburbs. I didn't think about farms, and if anything I'd just tac on a few in-between the tower blocks. The transitions in that case were far too sudden and what I'd now consider unrealistic. Of course in urban areas the land usage is at a premium, and so that's why everything gets condensed into more tightly packed expanses.

As I've tried to craft my playing style towards rural landscapes, I've begun to think more carefully about zoning and realised the importance of using (or not using) empty space. If thinking high density, then I'd allocate solid blocks of zones with less gaps. Although it still might be worth leaving a few to make way for parking lots or designated urban green parks. But if a new area is a prospective town or scaling down further to a small village, then I'm inclined to do it differently. Initially starting with one or more main through networks (road, avenue, rail, or highway), then branching off like a tree for individual housing estates or settlements. The key for me I've found is to leave spaces between areas, and also by adapting the zone parcel layout within them to allow for gaps.

The spaces between settlements might be logical places to later fill up with larger structures. This could include utility services such as power stations, water facilities, and waste disposal centres. Also the same for civics like universities or hospitals. In terms of RCI, perhaps scattered mansions, business or an industrial park. Maybe a shopping mall or even an airport can fit into the outskirts of a town. While the CBD is about looking upwards, in the rural-urban fringe it's the logical location for outwards sprawling structures in the close vicinity of central transport networks. The aim is to form believable transitions, while keeping connectivity to the denser and sparser areas.

In my most recent region I've found myself laying out streets which wind throughout a suburb in various directions. Or even going for diagonals. The plan to try and get away from a block grid style as much as possible. I add plenty of bus stops, and then go about the zoning by deliberately leaving spaces throughout. The thing with empty areas is they can always be filled up later on. For residential, maybe spread a few small shops around. The small parks and community gardens make nice fillers too. For agriculture, to vary the field sizes in clusters of different types. Remembering that zoned fields can be bulldozed to make way for new farms to develop.

One tip to achieve variation is by using precision zoning techniques. These allow the default parcel config to be overridden by a custom arrangement of your choice. An example of this is using Alt which rotates the zones to point towards the road or street. Therefore establishing a 1x2 zone instead of two 1x1's facing the other way. All in all there are many possibilities, and it can be a useful tool to create disparity between different locations.

An example from one of my current tiles:

CB - Daffy Duckland - A1 120.jpg


Then the distribution of zone usage:

CB - Daffy Duckland - A1 121.jpg

(The gaps shown on the SAM dirt roads are since I've used stopper lots to allow them to end at defined points, instead of flowing into connected streets.)


Another trick is simple in concept, but I've found very effective for transitions. It involves using the God Mode flora brush to plant trees in the gaps. Once establishing a city tile, it's possible to access the menu by holding Ctrl+Alt+Shift and clicking the "God Mode" button. Or alternatively there's a little mod which conveniently adds these to the Mayor Mode "Landscape Tools" menu. Basically I then go around and fill selected empty spaces with trees.

There are some cases where a finer accuracy is desired such as on farm field boundaries. For this I recommend holding Shift and pressing any of the number keys from 1-9. The smaller the number, the smaller the brush. Once setting the number it then gets locked onto that size until exiting the tool or changing to another size. This allows planting on the boundary edges of farms including to fill diagonal empty spaces, while maintaining defined edges.

For instance:

CB - Daffy Duckland - A2 061.jpg


And zooming into fields with trees planted on the perimeter:

CB - Daffy Duckland - A2 062.jpg

(Those who use custom tree controllers will benefit from even more variations than the default Maxis flora.)

With it being common for trees to be located on streams or river banks, in terms of diagonals, one possibility is to make those simulate a creek winding through the rural landscape. Since SC4 can't handle small water channels and such (at least without MMPs), that's where planted flora can go to represent them. This could even be done by painting trees in dense clusters, with or without them tracing the boundaries of occupied zones. And speaking of MMPs, these are useful for fillers too for adding extra details. Although I'm yet to utilise them in my cities, another benefit of empty spaces is there's more room for these to be placed.

So hopefully this gives a few supplementary ideas on creating believable urban to rural transitions in SC4.

Although there are limitations in the game in comparison to reality, there are certain techniques which can be utilised with zoning growable RCI. There are many ways to go about it, and on the whole I think the main thing is to keep options open when developing. To start small and build up as needed. For what's rural now, could have the prospect of being upgraded trending more towards an urban usage. It's that balance which is the recipe for blending land usage on a gradual scale.

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Thought I could say something about this. Something about: search google earth, make your more grid city go into less windy roads, drag a a small stream and plant some trees along, but I think that is all said. 

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  • Original Poster
  • Thank you everyone so far for the responses, looking forward to implementing some of your suggestions. I think for the current region I am working on, the large cities aren't large enough and I need to work on city spread a bit to make sure skyscrapers and agriculture can't be seen in the same window. Farms too close to the CBD? What do you think?

    Lion City-May. 15, 691533056566.png

    Lessu-Feb. 20, 521533056894.png

    Takau-Jul. 21, 531533057245.png

    Lemont-Jun. 13, 781533057703.png

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    4 hours ago, tails2489 said:

    I think for the current region I am working on, the large cities aren't large enough and I need to work on city spread a bit to make sure skyscrapers and agriculture can't be seen in the same window. Farms too close to the CBD? What do you think?

    To me it looks like you've created a nice fundamental layout there in a thriving city.

    I particularly like how those main highways and rail networks link up with the main districts. As you say it could be how the transition to the farms can be visually enhanced by dispersing them out a little. Perhaps also the shapes of the agriculture may benefit from being varied slightly instead of in blocks similar to the residential and commercial zones. In other words, the option to have fields bordering each other (or unzoned land), and not necessarily solely separated by roads or streets.

    The neat thing about agriculture is only the anchor lot (the farm building) needs to connect with a network. Then the field itself will still be part of the lot without needing access. Bulldozing sections of a field and a new farm can grow at the point where one or more cells border the road or street. This can be useful in ways to force them to construct by only providing a single access. Where the farms extend over the cliff edge in your 4th pic, that might be a possible place to add a bit of empty space and even a few trees leading up to the higher elevated terrain. Such techniques may help with achieving further gradual flow between development types.

    You've got a great solid base to work from, and with there being numerous techniques of structuring RCI zoning, it makes for many possibilities. *:)

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    4 hours ago, tails2489 said:

    What do you think?

    I believe you've done an excellent job on the transitions. Once outside of the Central Business District with the Skyscrapers the transitions to one and two story homes is just like a major city I'm familiar with (Indianapolis). You have a smattering of medium density apartments interspersed and that's also realistic. Beyond that you have the farms so it's all good.


    4 hours ago, tails2489 said:

    I think for the current region I am working on, the large cities aren't large enough and I need to work on city spread a bit to make sure skyscrapers and agriculture can't be seen in the same window.

    It really depends on what size city you are modeling. If it were the Circle City (Indianapolis) near me then you've done a very good jobs in density transitions. Here we have maybe a dozen towers that could be called skyscrapers and another dozen wanna-be taller buildings. Here's the southeast section (about a forth of the whole city):



    What you have created in Lion City, Lessu, Takau, and Lemont all have the same general feel of a smaller core CBD spreading out just like the real world. Keep in mind too the scale of Sim City doesn't map well as a one to one relationship so what is a ten miles square in the real world could be aesthetically represented in one large city tile in the game.

    You might also work towards the region view giving the full impression of the larger area you are making.

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    9 hours ago, tails2489 said:

    What do you think?

    I think it's ok. There is another thing I noticed and that is the other way round.

    I'm Dutch and the skyline from Den Haag has (ahum) 4 skyscrapers ( read: towers).  So I was thinking, with less skyscrapers, the transitions can maybe smoother. But on the other hand, it is all a personal taste issue. And again, pictures looks nice!

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    I second the consensus here. Solid blocks of suburbia in real life give way to a patch of farmland here, a patch of open woodland there, steadily growing in size and frequency as you move further out from the city center, until the subdivisions become islands of housing in a sea of farms and woods, gradually (in my experience very gradually) tapering off to farms and open land only once you are well outside the urbanized area. In megalopolis situations the subdivision islands will never fade out altogether, instead transitioning back to a more suburban landscape as you approach the next city.

    The shape of suburbia varies a lot too - it's not a concentric ring around downtown in most cases, instead it goes out 10 miles in one direction and 30 miles in the other, usually dictated by topography, transportation corridors, and the presence of pre-existing towns. Many a small town has been swallowed up by the commuter belt over the decades and centuries.

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    7 hours ago, Patricius Maximus said:

    (in my experience very gradually)

    Here is a map of the area where i was born. As you can see there a villages and boem, there is farmland. The borders between farmland and living areas are very sharp. It is nice to know that world has many views! *:)

    Schermafdruk 2018-08-08 12.33.22.png

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    On 8/8/2018 at 4:37 AM, Duco said:

    Here is a map of the area where i was born. As you can see there a villages and boem, there is farmland. The borders between farmland and living areas are very sharp. It is nice to know that world has many views! *:)


    Well, even in your map if you look at concentric circles going out from central Arnhem (let's say circles with radii increasing by a quarter kilometer each) it goes from all urban at say half a kilometer to perhaps half urban and half rural at 2 kilometers to predominately rural at 5 kilometers. That's an example of what I'm talking about - farmland at a given distance from the city center, more so than the actual urban-rural fringe being gradual as opposed to sharp, though that too is apparently far more common in the places I've traveled to than where you have traveled to.

    Of course in the other towns in the area there's a very sharp transition as you suggest. I'll acknowledge that in my experience has been like yours in small towns, which tend to have much sharper transitions than sprawling metropolitan areas. For a given value of small town, anyway - I've been through many places that are more like a glorified cluster of houses (and maybe a service business or two) than an actual town, and in those places the transition becomes very gradual again (perhaps on account of there not being a definitive center). Settlements of similar size in Europe I understand tend to have their housing and businesses all directly adjacent to each other rather than scattered throughout farm fields. I personally reserve the word "village" for these denser settlements that are more common in Europe.

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    5 hours ago, Patricius Maximus said:

    That's an example of what I'm talking about

    I Think your example is a perfect match. I think it came because of another discussion (doesn't matter) that I thought of this . The Netherlands is a small country, with no skylines as know for big city's .So maybe the villages you see on the map, are suburbs for Amsterdam, as you compare it with, by example, Paris. In that case your example goes again perfectly.

    But I don't see it as a suburb. It has to do with a point of view. So you can make a map with a straight border to rural land, or a map with a wider transition. It is just a point of view, although in the big picture, I think your point is correct. *:thumb:

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    My playing style is to basically start my region as all agriculture with a few small towns dispersed about.  As the region develops, the farm land gets eaten up and the small towns grow and merge, eventually becoming a metropolis.  I usually try to keep the transition between agriculture and city zoned low density.  However, even a few farms seem to survive among the high density areas *:).  Here is a picture of my Hebron region that I am currently working on.  I think it shows Ag/City transition well.



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