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American Society of Landscape Architects


June 2005 Issue

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

Views of Vegas and  Beyond
Design Workshop

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 place.”

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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