I’ve addressed this hot-button issue twice, first in a January 2015 essay, and most recently in a June 2016 “Ask a Native.” But each time another resort tumbles into paid-parking territory, the internet heats up and people stamp their electronic feet, threatening to boycott Las Vegas (if they don’t live here) or boycott the Strip (if they do). The outsider complaints come largely from those who have long been waxing poetic about cheap Las Vegas vacations that are so far in the past as to have morphed into mythology. The locals, however, might have more reason to complain.
As someone who witnessed Old Vegas become New Vegas, the disappearance of free parking seemed inevitable. Once, desert land was inexpensive and so was parking; today, space on our urbanized Strip is at a premium. And so is parking. But the disappearance of free valet? That hurts my Old Vegas soul. And that leads to this: I think a lot of the anger expressed by locals about the loss of free parking is less a matter of money and more a matter of poking into the emotional territory of disenfranchisement. After all, Las Vegas has long catered to those who visit us ahead of those who live here (often understandably so), and the price paid is that actualizing the dreamy “world-class city” to which our leaders aspire (Lightrail! Health care! Education!) always seems a secondary concern.
In the interim, locals have found ways to enjoy living here without many of the things found on the world-class city checklist. One of those is taking advantage of the massive dining, entertainment and cultural complex built in our backyard. Over the years, casinos offered many families (including mine) access to wonderful, cost-effective experiences. Sometimes that meant a nice dinner, or dropping in to sip a cocktail and listen to a pianist. Other times, it was simply strolling through the decked-out Bellagio Conservatory and admiring the exhibits. Las Vegas doesn’t have many public spaces (Checklist item No. 4), so the kind of aesthetic exposure locals can freely experience in some of our resorts has been an uplifting source of inspiration, comfort and happiness, often when I need it most.
As the city has grown, casino pricing has turned dramatically upward. As tourists gambled less and spent more on dining, shopping and entertainment, the value in these items evaporated, leaving many locals priced out of the fun. Now, with paid parking, even the small things might no longer be accessible to underserved Las Vegans, and that is concerning. As we move forward, I hope that casino executives will acknowledge the surrogate community role their properties play in a still underdeveloped city packed with people other than tourists.
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