What Does Las Vegas Lack?


Aside from the usual complaints about pieces missing from the Vegas puzzle (Ikea? White Castle? Water?), here’s one worth thinking about: institutional memory.

The stories and input of people who understand a place because they’ve experienced it over time can transform a city. Memory of this sort brings past experience to bear on dreams of the future. That’s what most other communities rely on when trying to find balance between continuity and change. There’s no reason that even profound changes can’t be responsive to the spirit of a place, and to the civic lessons learned over the decades.

But Las Vegas has long been a place where people come looking to leave the past behind. For them, history starts the day they arrive, and Las Vegas is very accommodating in this regard. It hardly has any memory of itself that isn’t in the form of (often staged) photos or video (which often were staged for publicity purposes). Our museums do what they can, and local historians have done their best. But our past still has not penetrated the public conversation (such as it is) about our future.

Plus, there’s the “brain drain” phenomenon: Many of our potentially influential young citizens hit the road as soon as they are able, taking their experiences of growing up here with them.

It’s hard to move forward without a sense of perspective. Perspective informs communities; it lets us know how we’ve done things and why we’ve done them. It helps to make sure that we neither forget our successes nor make the same mistakes twice. We aren’t very good at reembering, and that’s due in great deal to all the comings and goings in what remains, to an unfortunate extent, a transient town.

We excel at rapid adaptation rather than historic appreciation. And while it seems okay that your bartender may have just arrived yesterday, it gives pause that many of our teachers, journalists and other opinion leaders are also recently imported. That’s always been the nature of Las Vegas, and whether you see that as positive or troubling may determine how happy your stay here will be.

Questions? AskaNative@VegasSeven.com.