I think city building just needs to be made simpler. I won't be playing elemental for a city building game. I will play dawn of discovery for that. I didn't play galciv for it planetary building. I played it for strategy. Devs need to ask themselves what purpose does city building serve? At this point I would be completely happy to see city building completely removed and replaced with simple forts the sovereign could make. Small forts where his recruited champions and quest npcs could have safe harbor, by and sell items, resupply with food, defend themselves from surrounding enemies, etc. Then slowly branch out into city building but with choice involved.
Or there could be two types of cities. A Capital City and then smaller outlying towns. Capital cities could be huge but the rest would have population caps, farming caps which depend on their location. The capital city would be the first city you make and all outlying towns would be made from there.
Either way there are a number of creative solutions and the current city building isn't
Or have max set of farms that can be placed lets say 3. And then each time you build a farm beyond the 3 you have to build it on top of an already existing farm but by doing so it levels it up, they gain better equipment or workers, or whatever. Same with homes. Maybe the home gets a second story, etc. Or combine some similar material producing buildings into one. And just replace them with the the building upgrading. Instead of a whole new building perhaps small doo-dad architecture could represent a new building. Such as a spell academy for spell research. In which a spell whirly-gig would be attached in the courtyard of an already existing building like a town hall or palace.
Right now towns can eventually take up so much space that they can create a wall off or choke point. Which could be strategic. But seriously I think towns should just be represented by simple yet elegant looking tiles that change and grow. One town hall, a couple farms, a couple houses, one market, you get the idea.
But it begs to ask the question. If every town needs a market - why do we have to build it? Same with a town hall. Shouldn't the town dynamically make it? Or to build a town the first thing you build is a Town Hall - not a farm or some other building. And in front of the Town Hall courtyard is the market. So you town at the begining your town is producing gold and prestige. And depending how successful your sovereign is - the town grows. The market gets busier with npc activity,etc and starts producing more gold.
If every player will need to tech economics why not make it automatic at the begining. When you build a town you also discover economic tech, or other basic techs.
When it comes to city building once again it isn't even strategic. What if there was an grid overlay that you could bring up prior to building a city to see what the ground tiles could produce. Maybe this particular area would only support 2 farms? Or 3 farms with 1 epic farm? Or 3 farms, 1 epic farm, and a honey bee farm! Therefore city placement would change according where you placed it.
I think the devs didn't want to do this like civ because they wanted to give the player the ability to do what they wanted anywhere. But by doing so there are no caps or limits or choice in city building.