In 2002, Warsaw's mayoral candidates all competed in a game of SimCity – and the future president won

The greatest challenge of his career: Lech Kaczynski. Images: SimCity and the office of the President of Poland.

Today, this story has been doing the rounds on the internet, and made it to the top of Reddit:

It links back to a Wikipedia page entirely in Polish and with absolutely no citations, so we were, understandably, suspicious about its veracity. However, with the help of some Warsaw natives we've tracked down some news stories written about the event in 2002. This, with a pinch of salt, is what we think happened. 

In October 2002, Cenega Poland, a Polish games company, organised a competition in which the city's six mayoral candidates would put their city-planning skills to the test, by playing SimCity 3000. It gave each candidate an identical starting scenario, and a budget of 60,000 Simoleons (the SimCity currency) to play with.

Cenega modeled its imaginary city on the Polish capital. It was situated on a river, had a population of 32,700 people, an airport, a police station, and a small subway line. In the middle was a replica of the city's striking Palace of Culture building:

Image: Nnb at Wikimedia Commons.

According to Polish news site Interia, the six candidates played the game in front of 3,000 of the electorate. (Actually, most left their team of aides to play the game while they took questions from the crowd, but to be fair that's probably not a bad simulation of what being mayor is like.)

Each team started by enacting a major campaign policy, such as building police stations or roads. The exception was Janusz Piechociński of the Polish People's Party (now the country's deputy Prime Minister), who apparently started by building a zoo. One news story written at the time also claims Piechociński was wearing an "elegant helmet", which we haven't been able to verify; regrettably, no pictures of the event seem to survived in the public domain.

Janusz Piechociński in more serious times. Image: Adam Kliczek at Wikimedia commons.


At half past two, the drama kicked off. Each of the cities was hit by one of the natural disasters in the game: riots, fires, tornadoes and a UFO attack.

At the end of the game, Lech Kaczynski was the winner: by the year 2087, his bank account had swelled to 934,000 Simoleons. The loser, Janusz Olechowski, had only 432. At the time, Kaczynski modestly credited his team for the win, especially his chief of staff Michael Rogus, who claimed to have an "interest in strategic games" but had never played SimCity before.

Kaczynski would go on to win the mayoral elections in November and the Polish Presidential elections in October 2005. Sadly, he died in April 2010 when his plane crashed in Russia. 

Redditors reacted to learning about this tragedy in their own unique fashion:

Others saw the story as a good excuse for a bit of a pun-fest:

This, we're not going to lie, made CityMetric snigger. But then some people had to take it too far.

Polish news site Interia ended its story on the competition with the thought the perhaps all future politicians should try their hand at a city game before they are allowed to run real cities. There are worse ideas.

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“Without rent control we can’t hope to solve London’s housing crisis”

You BET! Oh GOD. Image: Getty.

Today, the mayor of London called for new powers to introduce rent controls in London. With ever increasing rents swallowing more of people’s income and driving poverty, the free market has clearly failed to provide affordable homes for Londoners. 

Created in 1988, the modern private rented sector was designed primarily to attract investment, with the balance of power weighted almost entirely in landlords’ favour. As social housing stock has been eroded, with more than 1 million fewer social rented homes today compared to 1980, and as the financialisation of homes has driven up house prices, more and more people are getting trapped private renting. In 1990 just 11 per cent of households in London rented privately, but by 2017 this figure had grown to 27 per cent; it is also home to an increasing number of families and older people. 

When I first moved to London, I spent years spending well over 50 per cent of my income on rent. Even without any dependent to support, after essentials my disposable income was vanishingly small. London has the highest rent to income ratio of any region, and the highest proportion of households spending over a third of their income on rent. High rents limit people’s lives, and in London this has become a major driver of poverty and inequality. In the three years leading up to 2015-16, 960,000 private renters were living in poverty, and over half of children growing up in private rented housing are living in poverty.

So carefully designed rent controls therefore have the potential to reduce poverty and may also contribute over time to the reduction of the housing benefit bill (although any housing bill reductions have to come after an expansion of the system, which has been subject to brutal cuts over the last decade). Rent controls may also support London’s employers, two-thirds of whom are struggling to recruit entry-level staff because of the shortage of affordable homes. 

It’s obvious that London rents are far too high, and now an increasing number of voices are calling for rent controls as part of the solution: 68 per cent of Londoners are in favour, and a growing renters’ movement has emerged. Groups like the London Renters Union have already secured a massive victory in the outlawing of section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions. But without rent control, landlords can still unfairly get rid of tenants by jacking up rents.


At the New Economics Foundation we’ve been working with the Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority to research what kind of rent control would work in London. Rent controls are often polarising in the UK but are commonplace elsewhere. New York controls rents on many properties, and Berlin has just introduced a five year “rental lid”, with the mayor citing a desire to not become “like London” as a motivation for the policy. 

A rent control that helps to solve London’s housing crisis would need to meet several criteria. Since rents have risen three times faster than average wages since 2010, rent control should initially brings rents down. Our research found that a 1 per cent reduction in rents for four years could lead to 20 per cent cheaper rents compared to where they would be otherwise. London also needs a rent control both within and between tenancies because otherwise landlords can just reset rents when tenancies end.

Without rent control we can’t hope to solve London’s housing crisis – but it’s not without risk. Decreases in landlord profits could encourage current landlords to exit the sector and discourage new ones from entering it. And a sharp reduction in the supply of privately rented homes would severely reduce housing options for Londoners, whilst reducing incentives for landlords to maintain and improve their properties.

Rent controls should be introduced in a stepped way to minimise risks for tenants. And we need more information on landlords, rents, and their business models in order to design a rent control which avoids unintended consequences.

Rent controls are also not a silver bullet. They need to be part of a package of solutions to London’s housing affordability crisis, including a large scale increase in social housebuilding and an improvement in housing benefit. However, private renting will be part of London’s housing system for some time to come, and the scale of the affordability crisis in London means that the question of rent controls is no longer “if”, but increasingly “how”. 

Joe Beswick is head of housing & land at the New Economics Foundation.