City builders are great because they're little ant farms you can tinker with endlessly, and at their best - say, in SimCity 4 - they propel themselves forward infinitely because they can never be perfectly balanced. Devlogs are great meanwhile because they can force us to reconsider design decisions we'd otherwise take for granted, which is what the latest developer diary for Cities: Skylines does while discussing why the game will let players place most buildings via zoning rather than individually.
It never occured to me that they might do it any other way, but the devlog forum post explains:
While discussing the possible ways to build a city a few ways emerged: placing buildings individually and zoning. While individual placing of buildings seemed interesting and in theory allowed the player to create the exact city they wanted it became clear that creating large cities would be difficult and cumbersome. The sheer amount of buildings needed to place would turn the game into an editor rather than a city builder. Also problems would arise with the needs of the city conflicting with the artistic visions of the player: the player would want to build 10 tenements in an area while the game calculated the city required only 3. Communicating this kind of information that is always changing as the game progresses would be impractical. And as the city grows and new technological levels are reached, the player would need to manually upgrade all the buildings in the city which in the end would mean going through thousands upon thousands of buildings.
This sounds a lot like the way Cities: Skylines more famous rival works - SimCity games work via zoning, and similarly split those zones into residential, commercial and industrial. Cities: Skyline instead aims to differentiate itself - from the most recent iteration of SimCity, at least - by allowing players to create a vast urban sprawl instead of a tiny tinker toy town. I like the look of the other screenshots, too.