Will Las Vegas ever be a real city?

Oh, no you didn’t. That whiny cliché—“a real city”—is usually uttered by those making unfavorable Euro-centric comparisons of a young Las Vegas to some supposedly amazing burg where everyone spends their days wandering through museums, hanging out at cafés sipping organic, free-trade lattes, bicycling to the farmers market on a fixie, riding the bus to the performing arts center, catching a live band at a nationally respected music fest, watching a storytelling event, enjoying a patio brunch while listening to bluegrass in the shadow of a loft building, browsing vintage shops, and walking a few blocks to the revitalizing hipster ‘hood for a cold Stella.

Wait, I did all those things last weekend right here in Las Vegas.

Why do Las Vegans hold public transportation in such disdain?

Using a sweeping term like “public transportation” to describe a simple bus system indicates you hail from a real city! Good for you. Your superiority complex notwithstanding, Las Vegas historically has had little want—physical or emotional—for public transport. Most of our development came in the post-war suburban boom; even such central neighborhoods as McNeil and Scotch 80s were designed with suburbia in mind.

A simple aerial view of Las Vegas compared with, say, San Francisco reveals a significant difference: Vegas is wide, flat and thinly spread; San Francisco is compact, hilly and dense. Add the psychology and architecture of both car culture and the Western frontier, and public transportation was seen as an avenue of last resort; only the poor rode the bus, and only weirdos and ne’er-do-wells walked anywhere. While my cousins were busy buying summer passes for bus rides to the California beach, I was in the garage tuning up my bicycle to get to the bowling alley and 7-Eleven. In short, Las Vegas isn’t an urban city. Or at least it hasn’t been.

But that’s changing; downtown is revitalizing, and that means more residents. Federal funds have helped create a new downtown transportation center (the hub for bus rides in Las Vegas, complete with bike storage), and the fancy new ACE (a tram-like bus) runs north-south routes almost the entire length of our metro area, with an east-west route along Sahara Avenue under construction.

As fuel prices climb and central living becomes more attractive, expect urbanization to continue. Before you know it, Vegas will be a (cough) real city! Now, if we can only do something with that damn monorail-to-nowhere.

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