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Downtown and out? The truth about Tony Hsieh’s $350m Las Vegas project...

Downtown and out The truth about Tony Hsieh s 350m Las Vegas project Cities The Guardian


The multi-millionaire internet entrepreneur’s outlandish experiment in urban revival is fast becoming an object of ridicule. So what’s really going on in downtown Vegas?

Stashed in: Vegas, Baby!, @zappos

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It's like the anti-mall in Costa Mesa

I've never been there but Downtown Vegas seems like a work in progress.

Gold Spike, whose ground floor turns, several nights of the week, into the kind of party scene whose noise renders its upper floors all but unsleepable, exemplifies the intensely social focus — or, to its detractors, intense frivolity — of the Downtown Project’s urban vision. One of Hsieh’s known hangouts – rumour has it he often turns up there to buy shots for the room – Gold Spike offers ample opportunity for two of the concepts the Downtown Project values most: collisions, and connectedness.

These two oft-heard terms codify Glaeser’s analysis of the benefits of urban proximity. But downtown Las Vegas has long lacked anything like the residential population needed for the kind of density that can by itself ensure such collision and connection. And so, until such time as that density arrives, the Downtown Project has attempted to come up with a substitute: by incentivising the building of institutions that maximise something called “collisionable hours”.

A collisionable hour, to the best of my understanding, is an hour you spend in a downtown social space: having a cappuccino at its perpetually vinyl record-soundtracked coffee shop, for instance, or eating at one of its “restaurant concepts”, tinkering with a project in its “co-working spaces”, drinking in one of its ever-more-numerous bars, taking your pet to its members-only dog park, or playing oversized chess out behind Gold Spike. Do this for an hour a day, and you’ll have put in 365 collisionable hours after a year, all of which would count towards the Downtown Project’s stated goal of producing 100,000 such hours per acre, per year.

This sort of quantification may strike even some of the wonkier urbanists out there as overthinking it. But what really stuck in the press’s craw was how, in February, “connectedness” suddenly replaced “community” in the Downtown Project’s official language. Was this the renunciation of an ideal, or at least a responsibility?

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