I’m sorry, that was a dishonest post title. I don’t have an urban blight simulator nor do I know where you can get one. But, having spent up to 15 slack-jawed minutes at a time watching this Zombie Outbreak Simulator, I really think someone ought to build one. (Turn your sound down before you click on that.)
The Zombie Outbreak Simulator represents a new leap forward in zombie attack prediction in that it superimposes the action on a Google satellite photo/map of a real Washington, D.C. suburb. You can observe the progress of zombie infections in the area and see which streets and neighborhoods get taken over first. And also where specific buildings, physical barriers, or armed civilians and cops are having an effect. (Er, not a whole lot of effect, actually.)
If someone can do this with zombies, why can’t we plug in all sorts of data and factors having to do with decline of Rust Belt cities, flip the switch and see what happens? I’m serious. Obviously we wouldn’t be tracking zombies, but would be tracking the comings and goings (well, mostly goings) of various demographics and businesses, as well as local and national economic and political developments and initiatives — then waiting to see which houses’ lights go dark and which historical landmark buildings go “poof.” We would get a reasonable prediction of exactly where the changes would take place decades in the future. And it would take a lot less time and effort than actually sitting around and waiting for it to unfold.
Then, once you’ve got the algorithm going, you could program in new variables drawn from the strategies of your favorite urbanist thinkers or Syracuse.com commentariat cranks. Would anything new and interesting happen? Well, that would be the suspense of the game.
It could be, however, that the Urban Blight Simulator would just leave you staring at it listlessly and obsessively for days or years on end, turning you into a meta-zombie (as the Zombie Outbreak Simulator has an odd tendency to do) with its strange fascination. I think that’s a risk we’ll have to take.