Personally I prefer vanilla with realistic builds. It's just about finding the right people who are active, creative, and trustworthy. Even if it's ad hoc, you throw them a blank canvas and some amazing things can happen. I've seen this on a couple servers that I've been on, so I thought why not do it myself.
Organization isn't that big of an issue, just need to lay down some guidelines - but you're right: the current version of minecraft server/client still run very inefficiently. And Notch has asked server modders to hold on development until they can get a proper minecraft API working. There has even been discussion between Mojang and Bukkit (a server admin mod) to possibly be integrated in the future. So as it stands the game still needs a lot of work, but it's getting there and if people want they can enjoy it now which I think is fantastic.
I'm working on putting together a server at the moment actually, but a lot of the server admin mods are out of date still making SMP less fun. Unless Scyber decides to bring this back eventually, I will open mine up to more Dfans people once it's stable.
If any miners want to get their hands dirty, there's an extensive network of natural caves right outside of the Western city wall. Lots of exposed coal and iron, with more precious ore at the lower levels. It also happens to have a very generous reservoir of lava that spans about 2x the size of our city area at the bottom. Should be more than enough for our lava/obsidian needs.
Shattering and the upcoming Cata expansion for WoW is keeping me quite busy atm so don't really have time to join the server. Will probably get on occasionally to check things out and maybe build something :).
I'm sad to hear, seems to be the case with a lot of people who were originally involved in this.
Was going to flesh out the basement level, but now that the spawn point in in the city hall, that's a no go. Since we don't have a coordinated meeting time, someone needs to go and sketch out the city layout, so whenever people decide to log on they can just stake a plot or city component and start filling it in. Asynchronous development gogo!
Most people are probably holding off for now since the last update introduced a bunch of bugs, but we're all still watching very attentively for fixes. In the meantime it's still possible to gather materials and poke around as well as develop the layout for the city. Don't give up just yet man - progress is being made
Think we could work with the landscape as much as possible to give the city a more organic feel (ie: leave some hills or shoreline)? It would reduce the amount of dirt we have to move around if we don't level everything in our way.
Edit: If you have three blocks deep, yes that works too, but then the loot doesn't flow from that third block. In my example, where the cobblestone wall begins, pushes them down and the next block keeps them underwater.
Also, just trapped some Creepers in this setup too. They don't seem to float...