Community Starts With Commitment

As a 41-year resident of Las Vegas, when I think of a better tomorrow, I think of my past, of epic lizard hunts in deserts where McMansions now stand, neighborhood block parties and touch football out front until the street lights came on, massive 99-cent shrimp cocktails Downtown, a UNLV Rebel shirt on everyone you encountered.

I queried my Facebook friends as to their warmest memories of the late 1970s and early 1980s, a period that many longtime Las Vegans assert was the best era for our hometown. Their answers were consistent with my own. As I looked to categorize them, it was clear to me what they were saying in the collective: that what we lack today is a sense of community.

For decades we’ve been about bigger, taller, wider—an unchecked, inelegant sprawl in all directions. It was about growth farther and farther, numbers and dollars—not people. Very little was done to improve the existing city, to repair and restore the original Las Vegas. And it all came crashing down.

But a new, better tomorrow seems to lie ahead. For once, we’re interested in improvement of what we already have. Expanded freeways have new decorations that interrupt the insufferable drabness of the crawl home. The amazing Smith Center for the Performing Arts has created something lasting and redeeming for a city craving its own culture, lighting a beacon for our youth to someday perform within. And Downtown is no longer synonymous with low-rent, dirty, tawdry. It’s now alive with vibrant pubs, a splendid First Friday and hotels that are looking to add modern style where once there was only kitsch—shiny jackpot jackets and plastic half-yards.

But the greatest responsibility for restoring a sense of community is not in the hands of our city leaders. It’s the obligation of each individual. We must return to a time when we cared about those who lived next door, shared a classroom with our children, worked in the local grocery store, or simply crossed our path.

My father was often heard to say that he loved the 1970s in Las Vegas, because everyone knew that they had it good, that there wasn’t an abundance of greed among those who lived and worked here. People just smiled when they saw each other.

So, that’s our task. If we’re going to avoid falling into the same boom-time bad habits that broke our sense of community, we’ll have to start doing the little things. Get a Rebel shirt and wear it on game day. Push the barbecue out front on the Fourth of July and grill a few hot dogs for the neighbor kids. And smile in common spaces like my dad did in the ’70s.

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Las Vegas has long been a place to play the odds, but at a certain point the house always starts cashing in. That’s true at the blackjack table, and it’s true with Mother Nature. Case in point: Las Vegas has always bet that, no matter how fast or how big it grew, there would be enough water. But here in the driest desert in North America, hope and luck only get you so far.