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[Neon Eden]

Downtown Bound: Column will focus on an evolving, exciting part of Las Vegas

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If it’s happening Downtown, J. Patrick Coolican is going to let you know about it.
Photo: Ryan Olbrysh

So here’s the deal. From now on, my column in the Weekly is going to focus on Downtown. And, we might as well just get this out of the way: No, I don’t live Downtown. So go ahead, heap scorn.

It’s absurd that I have to defend myself on this front, but I will anyway. My living situation in Green Valley is too good to be true. I get a very good deal on the rent, and I can walk to work, the movies, a bunch of restaurants, the library and a grocery store. (Come to think of it, can you Downtown dwellers say the same?)

If not for that, I would live Downtown. Also, I’m not a suburban lifer. Before I moved to Vegas, I lived in urban Portland, Chicago and Seattle. When I moved here, I considered it a terrible annoyance that I couldn’t find anything like my old neighborhoods in this city.

As a columnist, I’ve followed what’s happening Downtown and argued on its behalf.

Finally, I’ve found it’s often a journalistic advantage to have an outsider’s perspective, lest you get too close to the object to see it clearly. You wouldn’t want an Army officer covering the Pentagon, would you?

So, why are we launching this initiative?

After the crack wars, urban America reached a nadir in the early ’90s. In the two decades since, cities have been experiencing a resurgence. First, it was due to falling crime rates and cheap rents snapped up by bohemians and then young professionals. Now, a large swath of an entire generation is rejecting the suburbs (at least for the moment) and heading for the cities.

During the same period, committed activists have tried, with mixed results, to bring this resurgence to Downtown Las Vegas. Kudos to them, but our Downtown is behind other cities for a lot of reasons. Much of the investment during our real estate boom was focused on the Strip and typical Sunbelt suburbs. Our Downtown didn’t have the kinds of companies that attract young, educated workers like in other cities. Plus, we had the garden variety social problems and a pronounced lack of amenities that made Downtown development more difficult.

But we’re starting to see rapid change Downtown, and we think this is one of the most important stories happening in the entire Las Vegas Valley.

By now you know part of the story: Massive First Friday crowds, the Smith Center for the Performing Arts; a new city hall and other public investments; Zappos moving into the old city hall, and the Zappos-related, deep-pocketed Downtown Project.

We’ll be following major Downtown stories at city hall and tracking key happenings in real estate, plus Downtown casinos, police happenings, social services, parks and the nascent education efforts.

Just as often as the big stuff, however, neighborhoods are transformed by small steps—a fixed-up storefront, an open mic event, a neighborhood trash cleanup—and we’ll cover that, too.

As Harvard urban economist Edward Glaeser writes in Triumph of the City, cities aren’t about buildings. They’re about people. So we’ll be interested in exploring how the population of Downtown is changing. On that score, we’re interested in stories about the people who truly define a neighborhood—the local villains and Good Samaritans.

In general, I love urban neighborhoods and want Downtown to succeed. (What does success in this context even mean? And at what cost? Good questions, and we’ll explore them.) But I’m not a blind booster and will take a skeptical view, especially of concentrated power wielded at the expense of regular people.

I find that a common response to scrutiny is, “Shut up and clap louder!” Go ahead and try, but that will never work with me.

I do want feedback, however, as well as news tips and gossip, etc., so send me emails or call me.

Finally, yes, I’ll be leaving the suburbs and visiting Downtown a lot. If you see me, say hello and tell me why you hate my column. I won’t take it personally.

J. Patrick Coolican is a columnist for the Las Vegas Sun. Follow him on Twitter @jpcoolican or email him at patrick.coolican@lasvegassun.com. His Neon Eden radio show airs Mondays at 8 a.m. on 91.5 FM.

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