History Capital of the World

The Urban History Association is an international scholarly organization devoted to the study of cities, their plans and their pasts. This week, it will hold its biennial conference in a city that many scholars believe has neither a plan nor a past.

That city, as you may have guessed, is Las Vegas. Through Oct. 23, historians, architects and archivists will gather at UNLV’s student union for presentations on everything from Western water policy to the de-urbanization of Detroit. The theme of the conference was to have been “Sustainable Cities,” but someone with plenary power over punctuation decided that since the meeting was in Vegas—not sustainable! not a city!— it required a question mark.

Ladies and gentlemen: “Sustainable Cities?”

Vegas Seven asked David Wrobel, chairman of UNLV’s history department, and Andy Kirk, director of the university’s Public History Program and of Preserve Nevada, the statewide historic and cultural preservation organization, to offer seven reasons why the conference has come to the right place:

  1. The demographic growth of Clark County from the late 1980s to the late 2000s has been matched in intensity only by Los Angeles in the early 20th century and Chicago in the late 19th. Thus, Las Vegas may be our best contemporary case study in municipal efforts to meet the needs of a growing urban population.
  2. Las Vegas is one of the most important examples of a union town in modern American history.
  3. Las Vegas is one of the contemporary world’s great innovators in urban branding and in the manufacturing of consumer culture for domestic and global audiences. As a result, it has become a significant global city; not many similarly sized (or even larger) U.S. cities can make that claim.
  4. Clark County is, in fact, an innovative creator of new programs and standards for reduction of water use. It also offers a classic contemporary example of the generations-old Western American practice of metropolises targeting and garnering water resources in other areas.
  5. Las Vegas has the distinction of being a city whose “city center” is outside city limits.
  6. Clark County is a national leader in LEED-certified square footage and per capita solar power generation, and is poised to become the urban solar hub of the Southwest.
  7. Why ask why? Two million residents, 32 million visitors a year. It’s a city; get used to it!

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