n00b question regarding terrain

What's the best way to create more or less level terrain?  I've been playing around, and there are a few great methods for easily creating great landscapes, but I'm not really sure what the best way is the create more of an urban setting.  Image based heightmap maybe?  That way I could also slightly raise areas for things like curbs, sidewalks, steps, and the like.  Or I could model that stuff and make a random heightmap that is very, very smooth.

Its just that the ways I'm thinking of doing this are kinda like cheating, and using methods which aren't really intended for the purpose I'd be using them for.

I've been checking out the wiki and the API, but to be honest, its a little overwhelming.  I'm don't really have a handle on what tools jME has given me yet.

Also, I'm sure I'll have a million more questions, should I just update this thread as my stupid rookie questions thread, or keep making new posts?  Some forums like to keep this stuff in one thread, while others like it spread out to help new users like myself search for help easier.