The New 'Urban Community' On The Las Vegas Strip

Hey, Las Vegas. Good to see you! Tough break about all those foreclosures... But, hey, I hear you've got a new mega project opening up. That's cool! I bet those other broke cities are super jealous. Yeah, this new project's gonna bring you back to glory, eh? Oh, what's that? What did you just call it? CityCenter? The Capital of the New World? An urban community?

Let me stop you right there.

I'm not sure if you've been to a real city before, Las Vegas, or if you know the definitions of the words "urban" and "community", but what you've got on your hands with the recent opening of MGM Mirage's CityCenter is neither a city, urban, nor a community.

City Center


The 19 million-square-foot mega project you've plopped onto your famous Strip -- though flashy and starchitected and likely to gain some green building accolades -- is little more than a sterile attempt at mimicking density and latching on to the yuppie-fueled downtown condo wave that's been washing through America's cities.

I took a walk through it last week, and though I wasn't with the behind-the-scenes media junket that's traipsing around the grounds today, I did get a look at the project from the perspective of the typical Vegas visitor. I rode the three-stop tram that cuts through the property. I took a view from the upper floor of the new Mandarin Oriental hotel and residential tower. I walked through the cavernous Crystals shopping mall. Some of those buildings are pretty nice, but most could as easily be a bank's regional headquarters as an "urban community".

Most of the people wandering your streets could end up within the realm of CityCenter, though the transition from without to within is hardly noticeable. The prescribed pedestrianism of the Las Vegas Strip effectively kills what could be a varied, vibrant walk of discovery. But that's what people want from you, Las Vegas. You're good at what you do, so you might as well keep doing it.

The majority of people have no misconceptions about what you are, Las Vegas. You were hatched like a lab specimen, improbably, in the middle of the Mojave Desert -- as unnatural in your surroundings as the high fructose corn syrup facades and product-placed manufactractions that have stormed and sieged your streets. The definition of your urban experience is a sham, and everybody knows it. That's what they expect, and they are rewarded in plenty when they stumble down your Strip in the gentle daze of a prolonged LED-seizure and the buzz of a discount novelty cocktail.


Jim Murren, CEO of MGM Mirage recently told NPR that he wanted to put a "chunk of mid-town Manhattan" in the middle of the Strip. Now, Las Vegas, I know you don't need to be told that you're not New York City. In fact you're nothing close. The idea of splicing the genes of midtown into your streets is as offensive to you as it should be to New York. But knowing and appreciating the fact that you are not a dense urban community, you should have told your friends at CityCenter that the farce of an urban development they attempted to concoct wasn't really your style.

But then again, in a city with a fake Eiffel Tower, a fake Venice Canal, and a fake Statue of Liberty, maybe a project playing itself off as an urban community fits right in.

Nate Berg is a contributing editor for Planetizen and freelance journalist.



OK, but...

I took a walk around there yesterday afternoon, even got to meet Daniel Libeskind as he was showing an entourage around the "Crystals" shopping mall. Yeah, it may be an idealized caricature of urban life, but one thing that really surprised me was the sight of protestors ON THE PROPERTY. On a pedestrian bridge spanning the main entrance drive was a small group protesting the fact that they are allowing smoking in the casino, and that this should disqualify the LEED Gold rating. Bear in mind that these properties are private out to the curb. There is no publicly-owned sidewalk. Protestors are typically shooed off-property by casino security. The mere fact that they were allowing this is a small nod to truly public use of the space. Try protesting in a shopping mall. Not gonna happen. Another feature I like is that it features original artwork by noted artists, something Vegas was sorely lacking. While a lot of the criticisms are valid, City Center reminded me of a lot of the things I miss about NYC and Philadelphia, two cities I used to spend a lot of time in. As it has had that effect, they must have done something right.

Nate Berg, Master Reviewer of Real Estate Developments

Well, I always find it fascinating when journalists who have absolutely no background in real estate development, bless us with their brilliance of reviewing the latest venture, only to further their so called reputation in the business.

So lets take a look at this Nate. If you had the creativity and vision and financial acumen to dream of such a development maybe you would, instead of being a frustrated wanna be.

Being a developer myself, I feel appropriately "schooled" to offer my opinions. It is easy to judge a project, but without a solid background in development, entitlements, permitting, design, construction, finance, you're just another slack jaw, who's lack of credentials here represent another boring rant. Can you be more original? After all, you have this forum to pretend in. Try giving us a real assessment maybe after you've learned a thing or two about development.

Developers Reviewing Development

According to this comment, only developers are qualified to review developments. No one else is "appropriately schooled" to understand the issues.

By the same reasoning, only the big oil companies are qualified to judge the actions of the big oil companies, only politicians are qualified to judge the actions of politicians, and so on ad nauseum.

In fact, we all have to live with these developments, and we can all see that some are far worse than others.

Notice that this developer thinks he is qualified to criticize this post, even though he is ignorant of basic English usage:

"you're just another slack jaw, who's lack of credentials here represent another boring rant."

If he doesn't know the difference between "whose" and "who's," then he obviously is not "appropriately schooled" to talk about whether a piece of writing is good or bad.

Charles Siegel

You've missed the boat again

My, my, we are a bit sensitive. And so yes, there is a typo and how observant you are to mention this, but still an opportunity is lost in this article. Given the financial crisis we are facing in Las Vegas, you both completely miss the boat on this one. Instead of your narrow minded focus on people friendly spaces, well- what you think they should be, you could have shared with us what economic benefit this project might be bringing or not bringing to the City of Las Vegas. What is the tax base revenue it will be generating for the City? How many jobs did it create? How many people did it save right now in a financial crisis? What are the economics driving this plan. To be so narrow as to comment on the physical space only…It’s a narrow one sided opinion. But now I better understand the caliber of the writers here. Do us all a favor, stretch a bit and give us more than an opinion on public space. It’s a very self centered approach given what this City is enduring right now.

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