Las Vegas and the Downtown Project: A Photo Tour

Last week, Tech Cocktail and the Downtown Project invited a small group of tech entrepreneurs, innovators, and city enthusiasts (like Landscape Urbanism) to take a look at the projects and grounds of the new Downtown Project area in Las Vegas. I also gave a quick 10-minute talk on questions about the future of cities (forthcoming), but in the meantime, here’s a visual assortment of photographs from both the city-at-large as well as the downtown areas, generally.

Greater Las Vegas: Residential Patterns (and Aerial Photographs)

Flying in from San Francisco, here’s a couple of photos of the cityscape from the airplane window:

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Looking towards the airport and the strip, offset in the background. One of the main visual characteristics of Las Vegas is the desert landscape and the mountains surrounding the flat, tan lands. Note the patchwork of development in the foreground and the scattered suburban developments. 

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Residential suburban housing is an easy pattern to pick up from an aerial view: organized, repetitive, single-colored rooftops. 

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Another typical form of neighborhood development, with an anchor shopping mall off of an arterial street system leading to rounded-street single-family residential housing. 

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Gorgeous desert mountains in the distance. By and large, this is a horizontal city, not a vertical city.

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The Downtown Project: Another Las Vegas?

Looking out the window and musing about a city I barely know, I started to ask questions about what we think of when we think of Las Vegas, the city.

What is Las Vegas? What is its identity? What image comes to mind when you consider Las Vegas, and have you been beyond the Strip (not technically in Las Vegas, afterall) to see the residential or downtown areas of the city?

Did you even know that the city had a downtown? I’m not sure that I knew this.

If you don’t know of the Downtown Project yet, it’s a $350 million urban experiment led by Tony Hsieh of Zappos to “build the most community-focused large city in the world.” (The press list includes coverage in the NY TimesArch Daily, FortuneBusiness InsiderPando Daily, and Tech Cocktail).

I toured the downtown project area(s), feeling a bit confused about what the identity and vision for the project will be–although excited about the possibility of change and creation. In it’s current status, the downtown’s identity felt a bit like I was standing on a street corner peering into several different versions or interpretations of Vegas: looking in one direction, flat vacancy; turn and face the next block, and you see an amalgamation of 1950’s and 1960’s neon signs and strip-mall signage; another turn brings you face to face with more traditional downtown developments (a residential high rise, a city hall building), and yet another turn finds a lone sign and visions of shipping containers that feels somewhat familiarly like Burning Man in its eclecticism and desert combinations.

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Looking East towards the denser part of downtown; Fremont Street’s events are covered by the large half-dome in the center.

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Looking East.

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Looking North, with the old City Hall in the left part of the frame. 

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Views North. 

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Looking North-West. 

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Looking down towards many vacant lots and surface parking lots. 

From The Ground

What’s more important than aerials, however–is not the view from above but the view from the ground. What do these corridors and interstitial spaces feel like? What does the street front look like? How do we move through the city? How do we use the city, down on the ground, as pedestrians–as we spend much of our lives? Here are several snapshots from wandering the downtown spaces:

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Lots of signs and interesting sculptures. 

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As an urban designer and landscape architect, I was pressed to make conclusive remarks and design decisions for the future of the city–but in only two days, I can’t profess to have such conclusive thoughts. I’m as curious as the next person: what is Las Vegas? And what will it become?

So, what is it?

Or as the sticker in the hallway of the Ogden asked me:

I want _______ in my neighborhood. 

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