Views of Vegas and Beyond
A team of landscape architects is changing how an entire state addresses
landscape aesthetics in its planning decisions.
By James L. Sipes, ASLA
Driving along Highway 215 in northwest Las Vegas is like being sucker punched
in the stomach.
Imagine a 500-foot-wide corridor filled with nothing but gray rocks, gray pavement,
and tall gray walls. To make things worse, this concrete canyon runs right
though the middle of one of Las Vegas’s bustling residential areas. Houses
are built right against the corridor edge, separated only by massive walls
that were intended to reduce noise but that actually eliminate views and separate
neighborhoods. “People frequently describe the I-215 corridor as a moonscape,”
sighs Ron Blakemore, asla, supervising landscape architect for the Nevada
Department of Transportation (NDOT). “It is an amazingly sterile and inhospitable
In this country, rivers were once the physical barriers that helped define
the shape of communities and separated settlements. Today, roads like I-215
play that role.
Transportation projects such as the Las Vegas beltway are built because Nevada
is the fastest growing state in the United States. In an effort to keep up
with the changes, NDOT adopted the philosophy of building as much road as
possible, safely and cost-effectively. The results of this approach too often
were freestanding 24-foot-tall walls that blocked views of surrounding mountains,
highways that split communities in two, and bridges that lacked any visual
appeal. But the one project that made state leaders realize things needed
to be done differently is the Carson City Bypass.
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