At the beginning of the year, economists were pleased to report that Las Vegas unemployment had fallen to 10 percent. That such a number could on any level please anyone is, of course, a sign of these life-after-the-fall times. At our low point, unemployment flirted with 15 percent. So, while we’re still badly bruised, the cast at least seems ready to come off. Among other indicators of relative progress: Florida surpassed Nevada as the foreclosure capital of the U.S.; the Silver State’s health care system rose out of the nation’s bottom 10; and Las Vegas hotels inched back up toward the 90 percent occupancy of the mid-aughts.
It may be too early to toast our recovery, but it’s probably safe to say the worst is over. Time to plan our escape from the hole we dug ourselves into—a hole perfectly represented by the terraces scraped into the sides of hills, half-filled with flimsy housing developments, many of which have become graffiti-plastered squatter dens.
The question is: Will these scars on the landscape inform our progress? Will our experiences of the last 10 years inform our strategy for the next 10? In other words, as the economy recovers, will we repeat the same boom-time mistakes that over-burdened our schools, strained our infrastructure, sucked up our water, lured thousands of families into living beyond their means and then sunk our city? After all, recovering from a centuries-old land addiction may wind up being a lot tougher than recovering from a Great Recession.
We asked some of the Valley’s big thinkers what, if anything, we’ve learned from our past mistakes, and how these lessons might help us (re)shape our destiny. Here’s what they said.