Fake Omaha Project Central


Comprehensive FAQ

1. Is Fake Omaha a "perfect city"?

Not at all. What fun would that be?

Fake Omaha is an old, quirky city. It has experienced ups and downs, booms and busts. It has a history of mediocre leadership. It has a checkered legacy of misfires at redevelopment.

These trends have left indisputable marks on Fake Omaha. They have affected its economy, its culture, its politics, its likelihood to be mentioned in the same breath as other large cities.

Designated sections of this website discuss Fake Omaha's history in depth. Quite contrary to perfection, Fake Omaha's challenges play a leading role in this entire project.

2. You created a flawed city?

We sure did.

There is no shortage of textbook innovation – descriptions and drawings of how ideal cities would look, should look or are starting to look. Concepts as broad as healthy living and community self-reliance... to programs as specific as tax-increment financing and modified square-footage-to-parking-space requirements.

We agree with a lot of those ideas. We're downright excited about them. Their virtues are well documented and widely celebrated. As such, the purpose of Fake Omaha is not to add to the chorus of praise. Instead, we focus on the transition: how to evolve from old, misguided ideas toward a smarter, more dynamic course for cities and metropolitan areas.

3. What is the goal of Fake Omaha?

Very broadly, we aim to improve cities.

Beyond that, we emphasize the process of improving cities. Many other projects deal with the beginnings and the ends: root causes of urban issues at one extreme, the benefits of clever programs and policy at the other extreme. Fake Omaha pays closer attention to what's inbetween: the complex and gradual task of building positive momentum – one small victory at a time.

More specifically still – and perhaps uniquely – we are presenting a different way to approach that mission. First, we are using a backdrop of realistic fiction. (why?) Second, we are taking a decidedly non-academic angle. (why?)

Since Fake Omaha began in 2003, it has sprouted a number of secondary goals. Most of them are not directly related to planning or policy; this has opened the door for participants from other realms. Details about these secondary goals are available in the Participate section.

4. What are the issues in Fake Omaha?

We deal in some very familiar – and very frustrating (!) – issues:

  • Economy
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Health
  • Safety
  • Transportation

In Fake Omaha, these issues have puzzled the city and metropolitan area for generations. They are big, tough issues. More importantly, they are overlapping issues. An attempt to improve the education system cannot succeed without safe streets. Economic growth will not gain steam without adequate transportation networks. Pick any other combination of issues – relations between them will become undeniable after some careful thought.

Between and beyond the major issues exist other areas of concern: culture, language, religion, architecture, attitude, food, art, music, the list goes on. While less policy-oriented, these matters are integral to the character and vitality of a metropolitan area.

Whether big or small, Fake Omaha addresses issues head-on – partly through policy development, mostly through executable, operations-level activities. We use this website, among other tools, to roll out our concepts.

5. Why fiction? Can't you just apply this to a real city?

Tougher than it sounds.

Real cities – like anything in life – are fraught with competing interests, opposing viewpoints, disputed histories, and countless other confounding factors. If this project were imagined as Fake New York or Fake Los Angeles or Fake Atlanta or Fake Detroit, we'd instantly be up against the intricacies of those cities. (But Omaha is a real city!)

Anyone advocating change in any city can relate one thing: it is frustrating. It's sometimes rewarding, it's usually a learning experience, it's occasionally fun. But it's always, always frustrating.

Big changes don't happen without frustration. It's part of the deal. But what happens when frustration becomes overwhelming? In some places, that tendency has disenchanted activists to the point of giving up. It has dissuaded potential allies from joining the cause. It has derailed good ideas in their earliest phases, before they can ever mature to include tenable, implementation-ready details.

Fake Omaha offers a balance. It has a context (it does?) – meaning that participants are not operating in an unrealistic fantasyland. But that context is fiction – meaning that no one has all that much riding on it. For participants, this presents a useful opportunity: to concentrate on the nuts and bolts of an issue - without suffocating in the politics and the flaring tempers around it. It's like lorem ipsum for activists. (huh?)

6. So is Fake Omaha like SimCity?

Kind of.

Fake Omaha is like SimCity on steroids. We happen to deal in a lot of the same issues. But we drill down to levels not practical (or at least not marketable) in a general-interest computer game. Unlike a piece of software, our participants can add as many backstories, specimens and artifacts to this "game" as they see fit.

At this point, Fake Omaha isn't played as a game. There is no interactive, digital component. Rather, we bring together bits and pieces from all of our interest areas. Our work on these items – plus our experience in the real world – represents our hands-on involvement with Fake Omaha.

By all means, our hats are off to SimCity. We certainly played it in our younger days. While we can't credit it entirely with sparking our interest, it did provide a valuable beginner's lesson in municipal operations.

7. What does Fake Omaha have to do with Real Omaha?

Almost nothing.

As part of our fictitious context, we sought to lay out a very average place. For reference, we searched for a very average inspiration. A city that's big enough to be recognized, but does not instantly conjure a reaction. Few major cities fit that description; a quick run-down of candidates produced one clear winner. Omaha.

As does any place, Omaha has colorful local lore and real challenges. Still, we chose it as an everyman of a city – for better or for worse, Omaha's metropolitan issues do not often register at the national level.

Early on, we intended to come up with an original name for our fictitious city – its suburbs, in fact, do have less bizarre names. However, the project developed its own character and context before we came up with anything better. So Fake Omaha stuck.

The gridded, river-split layout of Real Omaha is faintly apparent in the geography of Fake Omaha. Our downtown central park is loosely reminiscent of Gene Leahy Mall. Aside from these map elements, we've borrowed little else.

This answer would be incomplete without a sincere salute to Omaha itself – easily one of the most underrated cities in the US.

8. How did you create the context for Fake Omaha?

We pay attention.

For a long time, we've closely observed failures and successes in cities around the world. We have also engaged in our own communities, learning first-hand how ideas flounder or how ideas flourish.

The story of Fake Omaha is a carefully formulated amalgam. In some instances, we have closely replicated factors from real cities. In other cases, we have established original problems and original solutions. While not directly inspired by actual people or events, these elements fall squarely within the realm of possibility.

Context shows up in the campaigns of Fake Omaha's politicians. It influences construction projects and special events. It is evident in the demographics of Fake Omaha's neighborhoods and suburbs. It is relayed through Fake Omaha's media outlets.

In sum, the context informs our ideas. It causes us to think about the historical background, the current controversies and the future implications of our concepts. We are mindful that this is fiction: experiences in Fake Omaha do not automatically translate to real life. That does not, however, conflict with our central argument: assertive solutions, when properly developed, can overpower the inertia of same ol' same ol'.

9. Where, in space and time, does Fake Omaha take place?

Hard to pinpoint.

In terms of location, Fake Omaha might be anywhere in the United States. The context contains clear influences from older industrial cities, but many of the issues are relevant throughout the country.

Determining the current time in Fake Omaha is not important. The project revolves around artifacts lifted directly from the city. These items tell a story that plays out over time; they "date" from the past, present and near-future. To isolate one time period is to miss a key point of the project. Piecing together the background is every bit as critical as understanding the present. And that, along with a healthy dose of determination, is essential to plotting the route ahead.

The context weaves in a number of "facts" of Fake Omaha history – events that happened in the city's past and impacted its future. All stories, missteps and accomplishments occur in the context of those historical elements. In terms of bringing the project to life, this loose timeline provides a framework for participants – one that's realistic but not constraining.

A basic Fake Omaha timeline, including snapshots of various moments in history, is available in the Explore section.

10. Who makes the decisions about Fake Omaha?

Too soon to say.

Until now, our roster of participants has been short. As we cast a wider net, we fully expect that different ideas will surface. Perhaps some of these ideas will contrast with our own. That's a good thing. We don't pretend to have all the answers. We are eager to see what other thinkers and doers can contribute.

All we ask are two things: one, that proposed contributions to Fake Omaha be realistic, detailed and well-informed. Two, that they be fundamentally consistent with a few basic guidelines and values. Any contribution that fits these parameters will be promoted, developed and enthusiastically featured in the "official" narrative of Fake Omaha.

As the project grows, we'll be on the lookout for fair and effective ways to assess contributions. Whatever happens, we will always aspire to keep Fake Omaha a project that is fun, open-minded and on-point.

FAQs 11-17 » / FAQs 18-22 »»