DT development vs. DT Arts District

I consider myself a fairly progressive person but one conflict I don’t understand is the Arts District anti-development group versus the new developer group. And I genuinely mean that. I don’t understand it. Feel free to break it down for me (but remember your manners, kids).

The way I see it, and granted all my information has come in bits and pieces from all over the place, this isn’t an either/or dilemna but rather a chance to create a fantastic comprimise that is a win-win in many ways. What I hear from my pals in the Arts District is a sort of twist on the old Republican refrain: No new development. We were here first. Our way or the highway. So by contrast the developers are framed as the carpetbagger-robber-barons who are only swooping in now to steal the glory of a resurrected community that they had no part in creating.

On the surface, this appeals to my anti-Starbucks, anti-Walmart, grassroots sensiblities. But after stepping back and looking at the situation in other ways, I’m not so sure that argument completely holds up. Bare with me here. What if some level of new development helps the arts district? Now I’m not saying there should be free license to just build giant things with no soul. But what if certain kinds of new development, the metaphorical “smart development” as it were, has the potential to add rather than detract from the spirit of downtown?

Let’s face it, there are already casinos and large buildings downtown. There are already freeway ramps, etc. So arguing against another tall buildng or casino just because it’s a tall buildng or casino doesn’t really make sense to me. What if some of these proposed high-rise condos could be made with sustainable materials using energy-efficient models? Then they could not only bring more residential to downtown but could be a model of what to do next in the growth machine of Southern Nevada. After all, urban sprawl and low-density is a deadly combination in terms of the toll it takes on the environment compared to higher density building.

In addition, I would argue that more residential is exactly what downtown needs to sustain this new arts district. Why? Because there is hardly any foot traffic to the Arts District businesses on any day/night of the week except First Friday (with the exception of certain downtown eateries populated by attornies during the day). More urban-minded foot traffic translates into a more thriving and vital downtown both in the Arts District and in regular shops in the area. And more residential brings the kinds of entities you need to create lasting, community feel such as full-size grocery stores and neighborhood-friendly shops. If people don’t have to leave the district to live their daily lives, all the better for building a community that embraces walking (rather than driving a car), favoring locally owned restaurants and shops owned by your neighbors (rather than Walmarts and the like) and it favors the sense of community sorely lacking in most walled-in “planned communities” around the valley. In fact, I would argue that the right kinds of high density developments could create a model for what the rest of the valley should be doing.

Now, that said, do I think that the proposals on the table for downtown are this perfect match? With most of it, no. Not a chance. (Some I just don’t know enough about to know either way.) I hate the idea that valuable art district properties might have to be lost in the name of progress. I hate the idea of condos or stadiums built just to make money for a developer who doesn’t give a shit about the community. And I certainly hate the idea of regular folks like myself being priced out of their homes because new development has come in and artificially raised property values.

Like I said,  I think for this to be done right, the developers can’t get an easy pass. Chances are this means that people who care about community building will have to fight to get the right kind of development. And they are going to have to hold the developers who do get through to high standards. But the fact is that change is constant, especially in Las Vegas, and there is very little that can be done to completely stop it. So instead of resisting what may be inevitable, how about lobbying to make the changes the best possible changes to come? Sustainable, eco-friendly designs with solar panels and water conservation. Pedestrian friendly architecture. Room for locally owned shops. Caps on insane property inflation that could kick old residents out.

While I don’t think it will be easy, if done right the changes ahead for downtown could enrich rather than destroy. At least, that’s my perspective looking in from the outside. I have a feeling I’m going to get crucified for my feelings on this issue. But please consider this as a starting point for dialogue rather than hatorade.

5 thoughts on “DT development vs. DT Arts District

  1. Here’s another perspective:

    I live across the blvrd, and a few blocks over diagonally from the proposed arena. What my neighbors and I fear is not incursion into the Arts District, but stretching an already stressed police force to keep the peace in the arena area. Neighbors have to take great pains to get the police to respond to our needs now. I can’t imagine what will happen when the area swells with 60,000 extra people on any given night. [See George Knapp’s column a couple of weeks ago]

    Background: the Police
    At our last neighborhood meeting, Chris G. pointed out that Metro lumps in everything from the Stratosphere to all the casinos in the downtown area into the resources it puts into protecting our neighborhood.

    The police officers that cover our area are stretched thin and have to some degree become inured to our neighborhood. It takes effort and organization on our part for the police to respond to real threats and nuisances. These threats and nuisances include everything from meth dealers parking under our large trees (in this area many homes were built in the 1950’s and have tall, adult trees, dealing meth in front of kids playing in front yards), to prostitutes parking in church parking lots and tossing used condoms from their cars on to our sidewalks. (Seriously, prostitution is going to happen anywhere, as evidenced by the brothels in Summerlin, but used condoms shouldn’t be left for homeowners to pick up – THAT makes us justifiably mad!) I know that people in Summerlin and Green Valley also use drugs. But those Summerlin-ites and Green Valley-ites all seem to buy their drugs in my neighborhood.

    Case Study: what everyone loves to talk about – the fiasco that is Circle Park

    My neighborhood borders the neighborhood that borders Circle Park. are right to feel unsafe after the two murders that occurred in and around Circle Park. (One homeless man killed another in Circle Park, and a “Transient” – so called by the police – killed an elderly neighbor in his own home near the corner of St. Louis and 8th by bludgeoning him to death. “Transients” were squatting in the home next to the elderly man’s.)

    Some neighbors want Circle Park to remain closed. Neighbors want it reopened as soon as possible. The simple solution would be to open the park during daylight hours and always have a park ranger patrolling there. A ranger would insure everyone’s safety, and there would be no more ridiculous talk from our Mayor about forcing out the homeless and infringing on their civil rights. But of course, the city will not pay for a ranger or an increased police presence. (Footnote #1)

    How Our Neighborhood is Characterized
    And it doesn’t help that the media perpetuates the myth that this area is more “urban” than the rest of Las Vegas, and what happens in this area stays in this area. We are no more or less “Urban” (with all the connotations that go with that word) than the people living in the North, South, East or West. We just have less of a commute to get to work.

    Nevertheless, we constantly fight to get the same services that other areas take for granted. For example, unauthorized, poorly run, renegade halfway houses are constantly sprouting up in my neighborhood. One just “opened” down the street from us, and since that time all the cars of neighbors next to the house have been broken into. Thankfully, the police have been responding to us in this case – but it has taken effort on the part of several people.

    Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against sharing the civic responsibility of having a halfway home in my community (just as some in Summerlin and Green Valley do). We have one well-established halfway house for women that have gone through drug and alcohol counseling. It is a good program and the house is run well. But, no one deserves to live next to the chaos that happens when renegade halfway houses sit next to you.

    Why do people think it’s okay to do this in my neighborhood? In part, because we are constantly portrayed as being in need of “development,” and in part because they think having a “racially mixed” community means that this is where halfway houses belong.

    What we really need
    In reality, what we need are descent grocery stores, better retail and more police to help us out with serious problems. (Footnote #2 & #3) This will attract more families, and allow us to be as ethnically and economically diverse as we are now. (We probably have the highest concentration of UNLV profs in the valley, and many of our residents are immigrants.)

    Tall Buildings
    The neighborhood isn’t opposed to tall buildings, and we certainly are not against more people moving into the neighborhood. What we have protested is the encroachment of very large buildings literally into our back yards. One wedding chapel on Las Vegas Blvd wanted to build a 35 story Condo-hotel on a space that literally backed up into someone’s back yard. Can you imagine the outcry if this were to be proposed in Summerlin, Green Valley etc? Why are there different rules for our homes and us?

    We very much want responsible development. For example, there is one project to open a small, two-story, building for a mortgage company on 6th, right off of Sahara. All the neighbors welcomed it.

    I can’t stress this enough: we are not anti-development. We are not irrational. We simply do not want to be forced to accept what others would find unreasonable if it were their homes or their backyards. We should also be able to rely on the police as much as those living in other parts of the Valley can.

    Footnote #1: Our neighborhood and the surrounding neighborhoods were the only precincts to vote for a bond that would have increased the hiring of police a few years back.

    Footnote #2: My neighbors and I were furious when residents in Summerlin were shown on local news because kids were spraying graffiti on their walls. The police and local news responded to them immediately.

    Footnote #3: Here is an interesting side-note. The people living in more established neighborhoods pay for the roads, sidewalks and utility lines into new housing developments in Summerlin, etc. But, you’d never know it by the way that the City Council and legislature treats us.

    WOW, that was a long post!

  2. All of the above is true but Id like to respond along a different line — the problem with the proposed arena, and with so many development projects, is the City’s “zoning by variance” approach. We do have an existing General Plan for zoning and a land-use overlay that designates different purposes for different areas. That plan is there to encourage, not block, devellopment; its to encourage developers to seek out property in the appropriately zoned area for their project. And to protect residential areas and ensure they have access to amenities, and to encourage less traffic and congestion by grouping commercial, industrial and office areas together so people aren’t driving all over in every different direction all the time.

    But in Las Vegas, we don’t follow the plan; a developer looks first for land, then for a project, then goes to the City for a variance. Thats what REI has done. (Actually I left out a step, which is they find a law firm or consultant to lobby the City or County planning dept for approval of the variance.)

    The blocks that would be destroyed west of LVB for the arena aren’t that much to look at now, though in some cases like Colorado they are much better than they were, but the point is that they are among the only parts of town that have the density and structure to encourage an actual urban experience — walking down the street to get somewhere rather than driving a freeway to get everywhere, drawing people together rather than separating them out across massive, environmentally devastating parking lots, …

    And instead we’ll have a series of parking garages accessible only by freeway,

  3. Jessica, I completely welcome your well-reasoned response! This is the kind of rational discourse I very much welcome! Hopefully more of you will chime in and we can all learn more about each other’s views on this issue. Like I said in my post, I really don’t feel like I understand what’s going on because I’m on the outside looking in and I want to understand it better.

    And I feel the first thing I should do is point out that I was specifically picking on the Arts District anti-development crowd because most of them also don’t live in the neighborhood (like myself) and at work I get inundated with e-mails and such with their complaints about things. It feels disengenuous and arrogant to me that someone from outside the neighborhood who goes into it to run a gallery or similar business (with tax breaks from the city because it’s an arts district) would then proceed to feel they can be the spokespeople for downtown redevelopment. And when I say Arts District, I mean those galleries and shops that are open on First Friday in and around CHarleston and Main. (Not that I don’t love FF, because I do and have been going since the very first one.)

    So what I find irritating right off the bat is people who live in Snoberlin, Green Money, etc. going into the Arts District to open a gallery and then acting like they’ve been in the neighborhood forever and they know exactly what it should be. I myself live on the edge of town and I just know that the issues of my neighborhood are different and even if I commuted to work downtown every day (which I used to do for 4 years), that doesn’t mean I would understand the special nature of downtown or what the people who live in that area want for themselves.

    I think you raise excellent points about police coverage (something rarely talked about by the more infamatory folks to contact me to write anti-development stories) and about other issues. You are right that grafitti in Snoberlin gets media exposure faster than downtown because there is an unjustified expectation that it naturally occurs downtown. (Incidentally, this speaks more to institutionalized racism in the media than Las Vegas specifically. Just look at coverage of kidnapped white kids blasted on CNN or how school shootings in prodiminantly white communities are major news while “every day” shootings in urband, ghetto schools are considered “the norm.”) In fact, I can tell you the last time I had to write about grafitti it was a neighborhood in Snoberlin. And at the time the cop I interviewed told me that the areas that had the highest incidents of grafitti were downtown, North Las Vegas and the NW part of the valley. But honestly, I see it all over the valley. Every part. Rich. Poor. Mixed. And that’s because it’s kids and kids are everywhere. And it’s not a race thing in terms of who does grafitti at all, but the popular stereotype is urban, poor black kids. I don’t know how to change that.

    And I’m glad that at least we agree on one thing that the downtown neighborhoods need community-based businesses to move in such as grocery stores and the like. Look at West Las Vegas, for instance, and their fight to get a grocery store! It’s going on three years and part of the fights have been for them to combat stereotypes. But I think stores like grocery stores are foundations for better community. We all need to eat! And they become a place to see your neighbors, too.

    I had purposefully left out the issues surrounding Circle Park but since you brought them up I will say this, I don’t really consider Circle Park to be adjacent to the Arts District (which I said I consider to be the vicinity around Charleston and Main). But Circle Park is downtown and it is definitely closer to where more of the downtown residents live. And it has become the valley’s poster child for what’s wrong with DT, which is unfair in many ways. But that’s the reality. So much has gone wrong with the management and administration of that park. I don’t want to see people’s civil rights infringed and at the same time, my heart goes out to the residents near there who have had to put up with so much for so long.

    Perhaps the biggest problem with all of this is the very nature of Las Vegas. So many people move here from somewhere else and they don’t take any kind of pride or responsibility in this city. Most of the newbies (and I would include myself since I have only been here 8 years) live in the corners of the valley, so to speak. We live in cookie-cutter tract homes with community-hurting block walls and we spend more time concerned about the traffic in our commute than making our whole valley a better place. The fact is, a community is only as strong as it’s weakest part. And there are some parts of our community that are hurting. But the newbies get too concerned with the “easy” and disposable life of Las Vegas and just don’t care about community. It’s all about “getting mine.”

    I see it every day on my commute home. I live off Blue Diamond and so at some point I have to turn off on my street an when that happens, I know that everyone else who’s turned on my street is my neighbor because that street is not a through street. So after navigating the traffic nightmare on Blue Diamond, most people are super frustrated. Including me. And what happens? Some asshole just does some illegal, dangerous driving to get around everyone else because s/he’s just gotta get home before everyone else who’s been backed up in the same traffic. And I always say to them as they are doing this, “Don’t you see that we are neighbors?! Don’t you see that you are being a jerk to people who live right next to you? We shop at the same grocery store! We ride our bikes on the same side streets! We are not your enemy.”

    That sentiment is what made me want to start this blog. I can’t stand it anymore! Can I go in and fix downtown? Hell no! It’s not my place to and I would not be so arrogant to say I can. But I also don’t agree with the idea that if it’s not in my backyard, I don’t need to worry or care about it. Because that’s bullshit. Hell, there are problems right here in my own neighborhood that I wish could be solved, including grafitti, drugs overzealous HOAs who send letters to homeowners complaining that kids are playing outside. (Literally, this happened in my neighborhood! What kind of neighorhood tells kids they can’t play outside?)

    I certainly don’t have any answers. And I sincerely wish that somehow the idea of building a true community wasn’t so hard. I’ve never lived in a place where people treated each other so flippantly and with such disposable care. And I’ve lived in 14 different cities in 6 states. I just think that for some reason building community is work. Maybe Las Vegas is Happy Meal Town. Fun but devoid of any nutritional value. And it’s hard to turn that into something of stubstance. But I think it is possible! I really do.

  4. Wow. That was a lot. I’m happy that you both (Jessica and Emmily) love Las Vegas enough to get this pissed off about what’s wrong with it.
    I do have hope that through compromise Las Vegas will be an amazing place in the next few years. It’s so close right now – you two are two examples of the amazing people who are working hard to make it better.
    I don’t have any specific comments on the downtown issue… other than that outsiders (like the arty snobs you’re talking about, Emmily) should educate themselves on the issue and can we just drop the stereotypes already and get on with our lives? Seriously, graffiti on one person’s wall is just as bad as graffiti on another’s! Just because it’s happened more to one resident doesn’t mean they should ‘get used to it.’
    Good read!

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