KFnet in T-Town

Mar. 24, 2009 at 6:29am

Advantage: Tacoma


I've only been to Las Vegas a couple times and my first time was just this last December. Lights, glitz, and money dominate and seem to blind just how an ideal city might develop. It's the kind of place if you watch closely enough you can see the sprawl happening. Vegas is also not the kind of place I'd generally compare directly with Tacoma in many ways (though we do have our share of gambling) but I think facets of many communities the world over can serve as guides and/or do's and don't's for us here.

Las Vegas sits in an arid desert environment in the middle of a wide valley filled over eons with eroded bits from the nearby mountains. This presents a nearly ideal place for aggressive development that needs only to shuffle around that already loose material in an already pretty flat landscape to start construction. And it shows in neighborhoods that stretch to the very ends of the valley floor until they run into mountains. Combined with seemingly little central planning and a frothing need to provide homes, malls, etc. for those staffing the next mega casino Vegas' sprawl is rampant and unorganized from development to development. In many places the streets are lop-sided because each developer is responsible for infrastructure upgrades. Sounds ideal to them but when you end up with, no kidding, a road with three lanes going one way and one in the other direction with all kinds of confusing merges and lanes jogging this way and that, it's a bloody mess.

One corner, no coordination
The shopping center in the upper right corner of this intersection on Blue Diamond Road in Las Vegas has widened the street while the subdivision developer on the upper left corner has not. No development on the other corners? No road widening nor improvement.

Tacoma has an advantage: we're boxed in. Density in the urban core of town north of I-5 and Hwy 16 is the highest in the area and becomes increasingly more spread out the further south, and less butted up against water, you go. It's a bit of a happy accident but we should take what we can get. Vegas has boundaries but they're a 20 minute drive from the city center and only in two directions -- their sprawl can continue for dozens of miles. I often conjure Utopian thoughts of a massive national park starting just south of 512 all the way into the mountains to help force another boundary on this area and it's sprawl.

Could density alone foster better community and thus the common perception that the north part of Tacoma is more appealing than the south? Is there a realistic (e.g. economical) way to encourage developers toward density other than having hard boundaries like water, mountains, etc? Do cities have to force rules and regulations to keep developers in-check since most aren't community-minded enough to do it themselves?

Advantage: Tacoma explores how the City of Destiny stacks up to other cities the world over on various issues from food and fun to urban design and decay. Though Tacoma may not always actually have the advantage, Kevin Freitas will compare and contrast first-hand experience and observation as fodder for thought and discussion.

comments [18]  |  posted under las vegas, tacoma, urban development, urban sprawl


by Erik on 3/24/2009 @ 9:09am
James Kunstler would certainly agree with you that Tacoma is designed better than Las Vegas which he reserves his harshes criticism for.

From his book A City in Mind

Las Vegas Utopia of Clowns

If Las Vegas truly is our city of the future, then we might as well all cut our own throats tomorrow. I certainly felt like cutting mine after only a few days there, so overwhelming was the sheer anomie provoked by every particular of its design and operation.

As a city it is a futureless catastrophe. As a tourist trap, it's a meta-joke. As a theosophical matter, it presents proof that we are a wicked people who deserve to be punished. In the historical context, it is the place where America's spirit crawled off to die.


It's great chapter of the book.

Kunstler finishes the chapter on Vegas with "In fact, if ever a setting was designed to ravage the central nervous system and induce acute agoraphobia, the Strip is it."

by NSHDscott on 3/24/2009 @ 12:57pm
I've been to Vegas twice for photography conferences. It's fun to photograph. You mentioned how you wouldn't normally compare Vegas and Tacoma, and I agree ... yet ironically, in at least one respect they fit together pretty well.

Check out my Shiny photo gallery to see what I mean. It's essentially a mix of abstracts from the Strip and downtown T-Town. See if you can identify which photos are from where! Some are pretty obvious, but others might surprise you ...

www.wallflowerphoto.com > Fine Art > Urbanscapes > Shiny

by KevinFreitas on 3/24/2009 @ 3:23pm
Great pics, thanks for sharing! It's a truly surreal place and, though I wouldn't wrap so many book-filling flourishments around saying it like Kunstler, I'm not a fan. Plenty of great people live in Vegas (the cousins I visited while down there both times, for one) but with an entire city based on a core of gambling dollars it just don't feel right.

It truly is amazing to see the lights at night -- not really of the strip proper but from near the center of town out over the blanket of flickering, dull orange of all those neighborhoods stretched out across the valley toward the bordering hills.

by Erik on 3/24/2009 @ 3:31pm
The amazing thing is trying to walk the strip. The fancy casinos seem so close yet they are almost impossible to walk around due to the distance. Just trying to walk away from Caesars Palace seems to take a half an hour.

by Mofo from the Hood on 3/24/2009 @ 3:42pm
The goal of NW living is a residence with a water view. That's what separates a priviledged sector of North Tacoma from the flatlanders. When you're watching sailboats on the bay then you're not watching the reconstruction from South 38th and Pacific to beyond Spanaway. Out of site, out of mind.

by KevinFreitas on 3/24/2009 @ 3:53pm
No water view from where my place and the vast majority of others sit on the north end.

I do understand but with a dense community in that area more of what we want/need is far closer so in most cases there's no need to hit the freeway for much of anything. There's plenty of great neighborhoods all around south of I-5 but even with older more established blocks there still isn't the same density thus the element of community can suffer. Plenty of people overcome through organizing in various ways but it's an uphill battle only hindered by how spread out things are.

Question: If I can pick up a loaf of bread right down the street should I instead hop on the freeway and hit the Fred Meyer on 72nd just so I can buck the snobby north end-er stereotype?

by Mofo from the Hood on 3/24/2009 @ 5:48pm
Aside from the North End residences with water views, there isn't much to distinguish one part of Tacoma from another. I was a North End homeowner, three blocks from 26th & Proctor, for over twenty years. That business district has dramatically changed in terms of marketing services beyond a neighborhood clientele–Twenty or thirty or forty years ago, a magazine write-up in Sunset would just look stupid. I would go so far as to say that commercial changes in the Proctor business district combined with a public trained to read a marketing language has probably contributed to what draws or creates a snobby stereotype of people now associated as residents of the North End.

Most people aren't interested in that whole circus and that's one reason why urban sprawl happens.

It has never made sense to me why the downtown area and Hilltop were not restored or rebuilt over their ruins first in the scheme of things. Politics? That's another reason for urban sprawl.

by rithean on 3/24/2009 @ 7:05pm
Yes, cities need to provide rules for developers to follow. If not, developers go for the fast buck, nothing more. They could care less if your house falls apart or if the city has to pay thousands of dollars to provide a far flung development with basic services, so long as they have your money and you can't get it back. Cities need to focus on long term quality of life by promoting sustainable development.

by Erik on 3/24/2009 @ 7:52pm
When cheap oil comes to the end, Las Vegas will be one of the first places to be abandoned. In its natural state, it supports very few humans.

by fredo on 3/24/2009 @ 7:57pm
I wouldn't want to quarrel with Kunstler but I think Las Vegas is a blast. I've been there many times and enjoyed the surreal atmosphere of the city. I've stayed at most of the hotels and only had one negative experience when my party was asked to leave one of the casinos (the place was a dump anyway). It will never match up to Tacoma but for a weekend getaway it's hard to top.

by chrism39 on 3/25/2009 @ 9:07am
I live in the Northend and I don't have a water view and I am not a snob, but I do agree their is a snobby attitude.

by Shep on 3/25/2009 @ 10:51am
I also live in the North End. When I got laid off, I found a much cheaper place to rent (still in the North End), and moved. There are snobs everywhere--have you ever been to Marlene's? Gawd, what a bunch of snoots! I'll take Fred Meyer any day for healthy food. The reason I like this part of town is it seems much more pedestrian and bicycle friendly, and that's good for saving on ga$.

by chrism39 on 3/26/2009 @ 9:06am
Is it me or do the slowest people on earth work at Marlene's, it's like they ask in the interview " Can you be extremely slow and have a vacant stare, you can, your hired" That place drives me crazy.

by Shep on 3/26/2009 @ 5:45pm
Thank YOU chrism39! I'm glad it wasn't just me they treated like something stinky they found on the bottom of their shoe. I only went in there twice, both times because I have a vegan sister who was coming to visit. Both times I was treated so bad, I left without finding anything. Ironically, Fred Meyer had a much better selection, stuff was easier to find, and things were not overpriced. I will never set foot in Marlene's again.

by chrism39 on 3/26/2009 @ 6:56pm
You think Marlene's is bad what about Metropolitan market, they are snoooooooooty. I was going to buy a pie there and I couldn't find the price, so I took it up to the counter and when they told me it was 18.00 I said well never mind, well you would have thought I tried to hold them up, the checker was so indignant about it. 18.00 for a pie, I don't think so.

by ensie on 3/27/2009 @ 11:36am
Hey Chrism - I wouldn't necessarily call Met Market snooty. "Pricey" definitely, but not snooty. I 've gotten excellent customer service every time I've gone in there, even (especially!) when I've had to wait at the deli counter or the coffee shop. I've also emailed them about special ordering some wine and got a very prompt and friendly email back. They carry several items that can't be found locally easily. They always offer to take my groceries out if for no other reason than to return my cart for me. I love Met Market - even if I can't afford to shop there!

by Erik on 3/27/2009 @ 11:50am
Metro Market rules. Nice long term employees.

by Shep on 3/27/2009 @ 2:03pm
Well, hopefully the one chrism got was one of the short-term employees.


Although I have another home on the web I thought it might be nice to lead by example a bit and put this blog system up to the test myself.

So far, so good... Funny how I build web tools for other people that are far better than the one's I have setup over on KFnet.


Hey Clear Channel, Clean Up Your Crap!

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