Learning from Las Vegas: is it time to rethink this garish temple of excess?

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Learning from Las Vegas: is it time to rethink this garish temple of excess?
The Las Vegas Strip, one of the most visited places on Earth. // Photo © David Levene for the Guardian

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Learning from Las Vegas: is it time to rethink this garish temple of excess?
The Las Vegas Strip, one of the most visited places on Earth. // Photo © David Levene for the Guardian

The Las Vegas Strip isn’t in Las Vegas. You’ve got to understand that before you can understand anything else about this glittering, 4.2-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard described by William L Fox as “the most aggressively branded and promoted concatenation of adult theme parks in the world”. It is also among the most visited places on Earth, having surpassed Mecca back in 1999.

The Strip was created in Paradise, an idyllically named township of Nevada’s Clark County formed by hotel builders who had already built strategically outside city limits as a means of minimising taxes, dodging regulations and avoiding utility disputes with the city proper. Since Paradise’s founding in 1950, the unabashedly capitalistic and hedonistic Strip has seen an astonishing buildup, especially during its two most notable boom times: the mob-run 1960s and the corporatised 1990s.

But what kind of an urban experience has resulted? To a first-time visitor (myself included), the Strip can look and feel like the concretisation of unplanned chaos – with its waves of pulsing lights and scrolling video screens; its “riot” of clashing, garish architectural styles; the wide central river of frequently gridlocked traffic; and the swarms of tourists, all dressed with aggressive casualness and milling blindly every which way. But does it make any sense at all to apply the term “urban planning” to the Strip? Or is this simply what happens when money dictates every aspect of a built environment? ….

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