An Urbanism for Las Vegas, Nevada

\”Let me confess at the outset to my preference for the real fakery of Las Vegas over the fake reality of Santa Fe – for the genuine rhinestone over the imitation pearl.\”David Hickey, 1998\”…an incredible advertisement for the selfishness of capital\” Michael Sorkin, 2004One of the most familiar \’downtowns\’ in America, famous internationally, does not bear much resemblance to most people\’s image of a conventional downtown, nor evoke many memories of traditional urbanity. The famous Las Vegas Strip, being \’repositioned\’ regularly, is not even located within the city limits of the City of Las Vegas, Nevada. Nonetheless, the Strip occupies the center of a major and rapidly spreading metropolitan area; a metropolitan area that some suggest has supplanted Los Angeles as the pre-eminent laboratory for emerging patterns of early 21st century American urbanism. The studio will consider these emerging patterns and pose alternatives – via design – for how in particular the region of the Strip might continue to evolve. Without fully shedding its mid-twentieth century reputation as the place for condoning, even celebrating, the \”victimless crimes\” of drink, gambling and sex, Las Vegas has grown, as rapidly as any other American metro area sine the mid 1990\’s, into a rather conventional, middle-class, sprawl dominated urban region. At the moment growing Las Vegas serves as a poster-child for two distinct conditions: excess optimism in growth colliding with a collapsed housing and mortgage market, and determination to stay apace of the worldwide competition for the tourist/resort economy, with \’upstarts\’ such as Dubai and Macao challenging its primacy. The exaggerated bifurcation in Las Vegas between its \’extraordinary\’ center and the miles-upon-miles of ordinary sprawling perimeter seems archetypal, or indicative of things to come. The fact that the city occupies a desert, water-short landscape, not at all well suited for extensive settlement, adds to the mystique and to the challenges ahead. As the Strip continues to transform, most notably today by the construction of the immense MGM MIRAGE City Center development – which advertises a more encompassing, mixed-use, \’urban\’ future for the Strip, not only more gaming venues – there are two remaining sizeable landholdings that will serve as the primary focus for the studio. These occur at either end of the Strip, near the airport and towards the City of Las Vegas\’ actual downtown. How should these, the southern and northern termini for the Strip, be conceived? In the \’Manifest Destiny\’ tradition of American urbanization Las Vegas remains new and ripe for change. Whether one sides more with Sorkin\’s condemnation of waste, or Harvey\’s admiration of authenticity, Las Vegas will continue to grow and evolve. What should that entail? Is its urban DNA pre-disposed to more and more megaprojects only? Remains private investment willed only? Will success depend only on more fantastical, themed, venues, or can one envision a \’post-themed\’ era for the Strip? Can an economy so doggedly focused on tourism also provide for the more mundane needs of the citizens who service this economy? Should the Strip also become a good place to live, go to school, shop for daily necessities? Most urban formations in early manifestations appear mono-purposed or chaotic. Should the Strip be made more familiar or more unprecedented? How or should it transform to accommodate the varied components of contemporary urban life, albeit in very non-traditional spatial configurations? Lastly, how does one bring to the Strip genuine innovations in environmental stewardship, so essential for the long term viability of Las Vegas to flourish? These are among the questions that the studio will address through design and planning probes. The studio is open to, indeed, welcomes the participa