Or, Hamsterdam under the Mandarin Oriental
With the recent spasm of homicides on the Las Vegas Strip (3 in less than two weeks), public safety on the Boulevard has become a big issue. I wrote a little about it here last week, and several local news outlets have given the issue more scrutiny. Yesterday I did an interview with KLAS's I-Team for a week-long series on the subject that will air next week.
I'll continue after the jump:
To some up how I feel, here are some bullet points:
- Safety on the Strip is very important; if potential visitors feel unsafe, they'll go somewhere else.
- The proliferation of pornslappers, unlicensed vendors, and costumed panhandlers creates the impression that anything goes on the Strip. If people see "little" laws being broken, they figure no one's going to see them break the "big" laws.
- Both the county and the Strip resort operators need to take steps right away to cut down on the lawless atmosphere on the Strip.
- In the short term, this should mean an increased police/security presence, particularly on the overpasses.
- The trick will be balancing safety and the feeling that, if something bad happens, the law is close at hand, with the fun, carefree atmosphere the Strip should have. It can't feel like a police state.
No easy answers here, obviously, and I don't claim for a minute to have any. I'm just saying that both the perception and reality of pedestrian safety on the Strip is becoming a problem that needs a solution. Downplaying each incident as a random act of violence and hoping the problem will go away won't cut it.
I'm going to focus on an aspect of the pedestrian Strip that I've been circling around for a few months now: the proliferation of salespeople, of one stripe or another, that I mentioned in bullet point two above.
On one hand, they are a nuisance. Most people who come to the Strip just want to get from point A to point B and don't want to be hassled by people selling CDs, or photo ops, or even liquor.
On the other (and this is the aspect that some of the media coverage has focused on), some of the "performers" are simply Las Vegans hit by the recession who are trying to make a buck.
This morning, while browsing my Twitter feed, I saw that an upcoming announcement from Aria was piquing people's curiosity.
And, in a sudden flash of inspiration, the answer to all of the Strip's problems, and CityCenter's too, came to me, courtesy of Bunny Colvin. Colvin, you might remember, was the police major in charge of Baltimore's Western District in The Wire. In season three, he decided to solve the problems associated with the flourishing drug trade by, in effect, legalizing drugs in three otherwise-uninhabited parts of the city:
CityCenter, though it was trumpeted as a major innovation in urban design, hasn't exactly delivered the goods. It's basically a shopping mall, a casino resort, and a few other hotel and condo components with little real connectivity with each other or even the pedestrian flow of the Strip. Aria, in particular, is set back several hundred feet from the Strip, a distance that many Strip walkers have found off-putting.
So CityCenter needs something to distract and attract people down that long walk to Aria, and the Strip needs a crackdown on the hustlers who are getting out of control. The hustlers just want someplace where they can make a buck.
The solution is clear: create a free zone for all of the "colorful" street life on CityCenter Place, the "grand boulevard" that, Jim Murren reminded us all at the opening press conference back in December 2009, was the same width as New York's Park Avenue.
You'd have an instant, one-of-a-kind attraction in front of Aria that could rival any entertainment district in the country. Musicians, street vendors, cosplayers, street theater...all under the gleam of glass and steel. It would be a living, breathing public art installation like no one's seen before. And it might even be fun...if you're into that kind of thing.
That way, visitors who want a genuine, chaotic experience will know exactly where to go, while those who are going to try to talk from MGM Grand to TI in ten minutes will be able to at least make the attempt without being accosted by hawkers every five steps. CityCenter gets an legitimate urban carnival, the performers, salespeople, and hustlers get a chance to make a buck, and the rest of the Strip suddenly looks a lot more orderly.
Seems like a win/win/win.