This article is copied from SC4ever.com. This article originally created by David Worsley (Duvad). I'll migrate the photos to Google Photos, stay tuned.
This small guide has been created for people, like me, who like to design beautiful, realistic-looking cities, rather than huge skyscraper-filled cities. This has just some basic tips for when creating realistic cities. The are also some pictures for you to view, of cities I have been building.
Remember to use elevation! Using the terraforming tools, creating small hills, not too high, but enough that the change is at least visible. These small hills can add a lot of beauty to your city, especially when in CBD areas and small neighbourhood areas.
Never use grids, except for when you are planning your CBD area(s). There is possibly not one city in the world that is just based on a grid. Grids are unrealistic and makes cities look very boring. They can only really be used in the CBD areas for the large skyscrapers.
Try not to make everything straight. Meaning that when creating cul-de-sacs or your "blocks", do not have them all the same length/size and try to make some roads twist and wined.
Either play your game on slow or medium speed, as it will give you enough time to plan your zones and other things out.
"Downtown" or CBD
Like I've said above, this is pretty much the only place where you should be using grids. It can help force the construction of office towers, if your population becomes high enough. Try to have small recreation areas every 7 or so grids. It not only highers the desiriblity for residential/commercial, but also looks nice on the eye.
The inner suburbs of your city are usually "blocks" where the whole area inside of the roads is a type of zone. You should also just be laying down low residential/commercial zones, leaving the rest of taller buildings for the middle of your region - your "downtown", or CBD.
Remember to build parks in these "blocks". If you get one of the mansion-type houses in your zones, you can destroy any other buildings in that block, then replace those zones with "Open Grass Areas", and finally adding trees to the top of them. You can even rename that mansion, if you want. Spreading these "mansion blocks" evenly across your city and uncommonly, gives a pleasing effect to the eye.
On the busier roads of your suburbs, these areas should be where all your commercial shops should be zoned. But remember, unless they are office parks, it should all be zoned low density!
Outer Suburbs/Small Surrounding Towns
In these areas, they should be full of cul-de-sacs, leading to the main roads of the cities. You should zone at least 2 by (x) residential around these cul-de-sac streets. Any unzoned areas inbetween your cul-de-sac streets can be filled with either Open Grass Areas or trees, though they aren't really needed.
Using some of the buildings available under the "Parks" menu, you can get some pretty nice looking parks. In the example above, I've used the Open Grass Areas mixed with Open Pavements to create a walkway effect.
Examples of some Realistic-looking Cities
Click one of the links below to go to some really very beautiful cities! If the link is broken, tell me.