There are two competing schools of city-building mechanics. It's not like PC vs. Mac, but each city-builder falls into one of these camps, and has since time immemorial.
In one corner is SimCity and its buddies. Over here the important thing is zoning. The enterprising city planner pays money to zone plots on the map. Eventually, little people will build their houses and businesses in these plots. City services such as fire houses and police stations work by extending their influence over vaguely circular areas.