Spring Mountains Gateway visitor center
Although I'd already covered the Spring Mountains Gateway visitor center for our July edition, I didn't get a real-life appreciation of it until last weekend when my cycling group scheduled our first "It's too damn hot to ride, but we have to stay in shape" hike. Recalling the compact-yet-challenging North Loop Trail at Mount Charleston, I suggested it. But where to meet, with us coming from all four corners of the valley? Oh, I know! I know! The visitor center. Having toured it during the grand opening a few weeks earlier, I knew it was on Kyle Canyon Road, just before the turn north onto Deer Creek Road, where the North Loop trail head is located. We could all park in the visitor center's expansive lot, use the bathrooms and fill up our water bottles at the free filtered water dispenser, then pile into one or two of our SUVs to head up the hill. The plan worked like a charm. But it was on the way home that we realized the true value of the visitor center. After hiking three hours, covering nearly six miles and 1,600 feet of elevation gain in 90 degrees, we swarmed to its air conditioning, cold water and flushable toilets like nomads to an oasis. We took in the local art and cultural monuments that designers spread thoughtfully around the site, and cooled off for a more comfortable half-hour trip home. The visitor center's creators imagined it as a transition from the concrete jungle to the high desert wilderness, but to us, it was also a welcome transition back. — Heidi Kyser

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The Death and Life of Great American Cities
After coming across so many admiring name-checks during my casual grazings of urban-planning lit, I had to buy a copy of Jane Jacobs’ seminal 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and wonk out with it. I just finished it last week, but I’ve only started to digest it. Which isn’t to say Jacobs’ book is some arid academic doorstop. Rather, it’s a spirited, but informed, manifesto that presents a series of clear, common-sense observations about what makes cities work — what makes them lively, attractive, and economically and culturally successful. 

As our Downtown continues to develop, there’s a lot of buzzword-larded chatter about creatives and collisions and vibrancy. There are a lot of questions, too: Is The Downtown Project a force for good or ill? How much should city government try to shape downtown, carving it into this entertainment district here, that arts district there? The Death and Life of Great American Cities doesn’t have the answers, but its observations serve as useful reference points, sound guideposts. To be sure, Jacobs’ examples of lively, successful city districts cluster in the East (New York, Boston, Philadelphia; she barely even considers car-cluttered L.A. to be a city per se), but I’ve found it instructive to keep her principles for organic urban vitality in mind when thinking and talking about the moves we make here, whether it’s Downtown or Downtown Summerlin. Among those principles: small blocks to encourage human-scale interactions and commerce, diversity of uses within a given district, a mix of old and new buildings, and population density — factors that animate in Jacobs a healthy suspicion of well-intended, top-down urban planning that separates this use from that use, life from life, and stifles the pulse of the city.

It’s a decidedly different recipe than our strip mall/subdivision/strip mall leapfrog system — to be fair, perhaps something unavoidably etched in our developmental DNA in this largely postwar city build on plentiful land. But as Vegas emerges from the recession and prepares to grow again, The Death and Life of Great American Cities can perhaps illuminate some forgotten questions we should ask ourselves, and maybe offer a few answers. — Andrew Kiraly


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