In the early years of the century, our city still gleamed as if gold-spun from strands of energy, heritage and commerce. If you spoke in symbols back then, as we do now, you could call the conceptual map of this very real place a Tesla coil, a double helix, the caduceus of Hermes—a glorious tangle of culture and business around the backbone of some essential “we.” It was a conscious city, a place that understood that its reflection differed from its projection.
Occasionally we dreamed of showing the world what we saw in the mirror, but the image of our everydayness stood no chance against the incandescence of our myth. “Las Vegas,” no matter how it tried, would never outrun “Vegas.” Vegas swam fast, and spawned faster, phosphorescent, coating the world with its five magical letters, in all colors and fonts, until neon shone hard over Oregon’s Siuslaw River and the South China Sea and a thousand other picturesque plots far from this hard land.
By 2020, “Vegas” no longer evoked a city at all, but a global notion, an aesthetic, a dream of gladly undertaken hazards and gleefully broken promises. We had long been what the world saw behind closed eyes when it pondered sin, the destination of those who sought to celebrate their secrets. But now the vision of abandon had been unleashed beneath the lights of a thousand casinos in 100 cities on six continents. “Vegas” was everywhere; what further need was there for Las Vegas? Our projection had taken on a life of its own. For our economic and cultural survival, we had to reassess our reflection, reimagine our community and recommit to what it meant to be a city in full.
The response came from the builders, the dreamers, the thinkers, the writers, the sketch artists and thrift-store mavens and phantom presences in dying record stores. It came from the urban wanderers and the poets of raw desert lots. It came from those who still knew the smell of sagebrush. It came from those who loved both past and future, openness and density, plazas and nooks, streetscapes and secret gardens, community and solitude. It took the form of elevated bike paths and fly-up hotels, of once-skeletal resorts transformed into ecological Central Parks, of high-rises supplied by vegetation grown on their own walls. The Strip, once only our projection, evolved into our reflection as well—a promenade for all of us, a kaleidoscope of energy, heritage, commerce. Lasting spaces were crafted around ephemeral exhibits of deathless art. The piazza, the cathedral and the pop-up gallery swirled themselves into boulevard dreams of permanence and permanent dynamism.
We came out from behind our screens and worked and wandered and looked watchfully and spoke vibrantly and learned how to be together and how to be alone. We rebuilt a place—our place, our city. And within its mountain bounds, we learned once more how to live.
Greg Blake Miller talks Vegas 2034 on 97.1 the Point. Listen to the broadcast below.