Massive Las Vegas Development Might Make LEED Silver – But Provokes Many Questions

vegas_center.jpgI’m generally of the opinion that anything built in Las Vegas should automatically get a notch taken off for any sort of green standard, but I’m still impressed at some of the effort that is going into MGM’s utterly massive “CityCenter” project on the Las Vegas Strip.

This project is so monumental ($5 Billion) that it will permanently impact the entire strip in ways never before seen, and likely shape development for years to come. But then again, in Vegas superlatives mean nothing… what about the details?


Las Vegas actually does have a “downtown”, but it was largely abandoned by the 60s and left to the homeless and the hookers. It’s still the place to go if you want to see the “Leaving Las Vegas” side of town, but has been enjoying a fairly major renaissance of its own.

But that’s not good enough for MGM – they intend to construct a brand new “city” designed by a dream-team of architects on 60 acres of land between the Bellagio and the Monte Carlo featuring a “real” urban experience. 5000 hotel rooms, 1500 condos, a zillion shops, and everything walkable and nice for pedestrians, and to top it off, planners say the whole thing will get a LEED Silver rating (think lots of water recycling).

Anyone with a basic understanding of the issues around sustainability knows that the way we build our cities and related transportation is probably the single biggest one. You could build a city out of almost anything and as long as people aren’t forced to drive cars, it’s probably “greener” than almost anything else. Urbanity also has societal benefits, reinforcing community in a way that dosn’t really happen in the modern exurb. It’s also just “nice” and explains why so many tourists flock to the old sections of cities, and why downtown lofts and other redevelopments are so popular in a country that turned its back on the city for 40 years. It also explains why major busineses have created “fake” cities in recent years, like LA’s Grove, to meet the dire need people have to gather in a place that feels “authentic”, “urban”, or “neighborhoody”.

In Las Vegas, the current state of urbanity is strange – it’s almost impossible to walk anywhere without either climbing over fences or jamming yourself into a bottleneck bridge over gridlocked Las Vegas Boulevard. Waiting for a taxi isn’t worth it, and you can forget driving anywhere near popular destinations. That said, the mega-hotels are incredibly densely populated, and there are thousands of high rise residential condo units currenly being built in the city. Vegas is “Manhattanizing” at an astonishing rate, but what will the benefits (if any) be? Is it too much? Is density alone meaningful?

What do these questions have to do with Triple Pundit and green business? The big difference between development in Las Vegas, and the development patterns that shaped our original cities is that originally things developed around a pedestrian model in small parcels, with many differnt players (businesses and individuals) at work. Today, developers and the massive amounts of capital they weild, can create “instant” cities like the CityCenter project that are by and large, private developments on an unprecidented scale. Although big business is clearly meeting a demand that is almost insatiable – proving the market for walkable, urban living – can a massive private development ever replicate the treasured neighboorhoods it purports to imitate? What’s the alternative from a business perspective?

In a private “city” do residents have the right to assemble? Do small businesses have the right to remodel or add a second floor? Who is the government exactly? Why wouldn’t MGM build this in the real downtown Vegas? And more metaphysically, can a place like CityCenter ever have a real soul? Discuss…

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has since grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.