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.