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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

May 2007 Issue

Betting on a More Walkable Future
A pedestrian-friendly downtown corridor with a water feature that has gone dry, thanks to Las Vegas’s water woes, still has locals out walking for a change.

By Daniel Jost, Associate ASLA

Betting on a More Walkable Future SWA Group

Last year, Prevention magazine ranked Las Vegas the “Fifth Best Walking City” in America. The local reaction was a mix of surprise and confusion. Had anyone from Prevention ever been here?

Turns out that Prevention’s criteria for ranking cities included the percentage of adults who golf and the percentage of people who walk for health, such as treadmill users. The quality of a city’s sidewalks was not considered. If it had been, Las Vegas probably wouldn’t have ranked in the top 100.

Walking can be treacherous here. Narrow sidewalks are littered with utility boxes and streetlights. In the past, Las Vegas’s brutal summers have been used to justify its poor pedestrian amenities. Who would walk outside when they could drive an air-conditioned car? This thinking was reinforced by providing shadeless sidewalks that got little use, such as those once found on Lewis Avenue, a major axis of downtown’s new office district.

“There were probably no pedestrians here six years ago,” remarked Steven van Gorp, redevelopment manager for the city, as we strolled along Lewis Avenue last summer. For good reason: There were no street trees to provide shade or create a buffer from the four-lane road. Buildings lacking in human scale loomed over narrow sidewalks. No one would walk down the street without a damn good reason, and when they wanted to get lunch they hopped in their cars.

Lewis Avenue is a very different corridor today. There are generous 25-foot-wide sidewalks. There’s shade. There is even a plaza space with design elements that evoke the native desert.

“I’m trying to establish an urban core where people will feel that it’s pedestrian friendly for folks who live, work, and play in the area,” explains Mayor Oscar B. Goodman, whose initiative in 2000 to create a more pedestrian-oriented “people place” downtown gave rise to the corridor. “The Lewis Avenue Corridor was the first experiment along that line, and it’s turned out to be very successful.” And this is only the beginning. “There are several projects that are going to be patterned after this vision,” declares Goodman.

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