Planning Megapolitan Las Vegas

Robert Lang, the director of the Brookings Mountain West center at UNLV, has never shied away from thinking big about the future of cities—and of the Southwest. Now, in a book coauthored with University of Utah planning professor Arthur Nelson, Lang predicts the Las Vegas Valley’s population could grow by 70 percent by 2040.

The book, Megapolitan America: A New Vision for Understanding America’s Metropolitan Geography, argues that the nation has evolved into 10 megapolitan clusters, composed of 23 megapolitan areas. Las Vegas is considered a megapolitan area in the Southwest Megapolitan Cluster, along with Southern California and the Sun Corridor (Phoenix/Tucson). Lang and Nelson predict the Southwest will see the nation’s most profound growth: By 2040, the Southwest cluster will have more than 44 million people, and “its density, at nearly 1,800 persons per square mile, will be greater than that of any European country.” In order to accommodate all this growth and density in a sustainable way, we need to do a better job at planning our city. And Lang is prepared to take an important early step: developing the curriculum for an urban planning program at UNLV. The program will initially offer certificates and eventually evolve into a graduate program.

“We see this ramping up over the next two years,” Lang says. “The interesting thing is we have the faculty; they just need to be programmed for this.” Planning is a conglomerate of other disciplines, such as law, architecture, geography, environmental studies, public policy, etc., so all it takes is for faculty in these other fields to teach classes geared toward planning. And given our state’s educational budget woes, it’s an opportunity to get the most out of the university’s resources.

Planning is all about context, and this program will help create a Las Vegas interpretation of urban development; people who know the Valley, its history and its needs will be formally educated on the best practices in the field. Ideally, that means we’ll be better able to handle growth in a creative and informed way, making us a better neighbor for Los Angeles and Phoenix in the new, megapolitan Southwest.