Robert Venturi once observed Las Vegas as the only uniquely American expression of architecture. No one ever says it is a product of thoughtful planning. In 2006, when MGM Mirage and partners decided to build City Center, Las Vegas, NV, New York news aptly described it as an entertainment-based retail project. A comparison with an older effort confirms why metaphor-desperate architecture critics get super busy; however, I think lousy planning is the more useful element to engage. Enter stage left, Lincoln Square, Center, and Circle.
A viewpoint for examining the similarities and differences from one other kind of uniqueness can be useful. America is not built on ancient traditions, universal religion, ethnicity, or race; its founders believed that a nation could be built on ideals. The principles of human dignity are given the highest value. Without the rigorous implementation of this core value, community development tends to fail this purpose. The question is not if the development practice in Lincoln Square, NYC, and City Center, Las Vegas was racist. The question is, how much racism is in play?
These two real estate investments are instructive of American urban development. They stand fifty years apart, but it might as well be five centuries regarding their exposure to values. Robert Moses broke ground on the Lincoln Center project with President Eisenhower. The biography of both patriarchs confirms a systemic racism component. Both believed Black people should be treated equally but did not think they were equal, and many of the policies and actions of both remain as proof.
Lincoln Square is an example of racialized architecture in New York City because its backdoor (parking/shipping) was placed on Amsterdam adjacent to public housing. The entry plaza favored the Broadway/Columbus intersection. This was a reasonable architectural decision for many reasons. However, one reason rarely, if ever mentioned, is that architecture as a profession has no design solution for racism. They are subservient; the racism of their clients is included. The profession received clear notice of this problem in 1968 at their 100th convention (here).
Lincoln Center’s development is not as apparent as the proliferation of Confederate monuments from 1900 to through the 1920s, which continues through the 1950s. It was not used to support segregation with warlike intimidation. It found and developed rules of law to demolish a mostly Black neighborhood. The Civil Rights Movement’s pushes back, and Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee Park is now Emancipation Park. A record of this effort is kept by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). On the other hand, the high culture of Lincoln Center uses the grade sheet of their traditions. They seek to convert participants into high arts as their earnest effort to confront racism to claim success in their terms.
Lincoln Center represent issues that architectural design or sculpted monuments cannot handle. Its creation was born of the slum clearance, race intimidation movement known as Urban Renewal. It developed through the redlined 50s and into the late 60s in NYC. The civil rights response pushes back but is compelled to accept reconciliation measures. Reconciliation also occurs in the offerings of special district law in 1969. The Lincoln Square District’s roots can point a bit remarkably to its transformation. It led to comprehensive inclusionary zoning laws, albeit fifty years later.
As a renewal program, the special district design attacked the southern diaspora of poverty into the North with displacement strategies. As for tactics, restitution-like compromises such as the promise of affordable housing and well-funded ‘top-down” cultural services can be agreeable goals to the “fighters” and the losses, grave as they may be, deemed acceptable.
Understanding these programs’ rectitude provides the added depth needed to understand the term “systemic” in race relations and economic change. The displacement practice, once quoted to me once as, “you are free, just not here, because you can’t afford it,” continues to this day and well examined in a report from the University of Pennsylvania’s City Planning program (here). Displacement is a percentage game, and if human dignity was the measure, the players on both sides are losing. Penn’s work is an excellent update of Chester Hartman’s book, “Displacement: How to Fight It,” developed by Dennis Keating and Richard LeGates (1981). The truth in both publications, now decades apart, is the displacement process has only changed on the margins. Therein lies the terror of it all.
A small portion of New York City (Map: CT 145) covers an area of eight typical city blocks just west of Central Park. It had a 2000 population of 4,500 people living in 2,900 housing units that sustains a low vacancy rate of about 2%. The land area is 60 acres to yield a residential density of 48,000 people per square mile. (Facts to be updated following 2020 Census – see below.)
The area includes the Fordham University Law School and it is just south of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Juilliard School, and a dozen other cultural miracles. It is not just a neighborhood composed of multiple story apartment buildings, it is a destination experience established by cultural centers, the splendor of Central Park’s open space, and the Time Warner 12-story, shopping “mall” without the standing auto-surround. The daytime population density can be doubled with ease, and well supported by a transit system at this location that can deliver 5,000 people per hour, 24/7/365.
The public goal (1969) of the Special Lincoln Square District is to enhance the area as an international center for the performing arts. To achieve this goal, urban design along Broadway will follow street line rules. Arcades for interior urban-room retail and service facilities provide a compromise for regulation and limits on street-level uses. Supply-side development bonuses are through special permits that offer added square footage for housing rented at lower (but not low) rents governed by Inclusionary Housing R10. and subway improvements. The demand side bets on good shows, a friendly neighborhood, and a sincere hope that the NYC mass transit services do not collapse.
Lincoln Center is a life-long learning opportunity in community development. Despite a long history of cultural engagement efforts as compensation for a vast mid-50s clearance of thousands of families, a tabula rasa planning strategy, and elements such as the fortress edge at Amsterdam Avenue, the entire project remains an unfulfilled story of transitional urban power. Its future continues to be written for the success it still might get, not by crossing Amsterdam, but in recognizing how well the social fabric of this part of Manhattan is willing to attack its drift into a binary culture and ignore new opportunities that offer exceptional new levels of depth.
The comparison with another entertainment-retail center for the high-spend culture has America written all over it. It is instructive of the “binary-problem” and a warning of competing solely for the high-end. The City Center was a five-year design and build “hit”, not unlike graffiti, but way neat and well worth the time exploring innovations.
The $9+ Billion Las Vegas City Center (left to right): KPF’s Mandarin Hotel, (392) Libeskind, and Rockwell’s Crystal’s premium goods mall, Pelli’s Aria, (4,000) Helmut Jahn’s Veer, (335) Foster’s ill-fated Harmon. (demolition was in 2015) Also in the City Center, Rafael Viñoly Vara hotel and residences (1,495). A “who’s who” of architect high-end destination creation. The City Center project broke ground in 2006, and despite significant construction difficulties, including nine deaths in sixteen months, the new skyline hit the press in late 2009. The plan for this massive development was based on speed regardless of the human cost and a systemic “rent-comes-first” problem.
The entire project is symbolized by the demolition of Foster’s Harmon hotel, but like New York City’s development projects, the larger effort survived the 2008 recession. In Las Vegas, all bets are all on the black. Undeterred, billions spent in building the City Center out of nothing that can be remembered occurred even though Las Vegas sits amidst, the aridest desert on Earth. Most of the 2.6 million residents trust in the spin on Lake Mead as shrinking (or not) rejecting any notion of a prolonged era of despair due to the rains of 2016/17.
The fresh knowledge of anguish from the City Center project became available when the Las Vegas Sun received a Pulitzer Prize for uncovering the causes of construction deaths and lax regulatory assessments. The tragedy of a worker’s family is described (here). All of the stories by Las Vegas Sun for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize Winner in Public Service can be read (here), one-story points to NYC’s positive response to construction safety. Please read the work of Alexandra Berzon of the Sun who explored the pace, fear, and death and terror that accompanied the creation of City Center before taking in the five minutes on the spin on the final product in the following presentation.
All of Las Vegas began as a city of no rules sprawl. The property taken didn’t make the news. It produced thousands of hotel and residential condo-units spread through multiple structures on a 67-acre site. The Vara overlaps residence floors with a 1,500-room hotel. Regular housing is included in the Mandarin Oriental and a 37-floor twin tower. The housing and related residential accommodations combine a complex of hotels, shops, and gambling entertainment. Whether the housing is composed of permanent residents or time-shared ‘hotel-condo’ participants is of small consequence. The community with this density can resolve the service implications with reasonable ease based on density. That leaves median-income and whether racial and gender disparities are becoming dispositive.
Developing business models on the provision of unique destination-retail cultures (high or low) are coupled with a base of rental units, permanent, and condo-hotel housing. Development of this kind suggests the need for a comparison built on the demography of a place, before, during, and after. Such a comparison could yield measures by which the fast “time is money” impact of capital project disruptions that often lead to forced and economic displacement also provide proof of balance. There would be sufficient generational investment for those found in the wake of this harm that it will never occur to that household again. It would be a guarantee, a promise that the cycle of poverty ends with an emphasis on every child regardless of the cost.
The resident population of Las Vegas will be close to three million people in 2020, and prior to the 2020 pandemic, this city had 42.52 million visitors in 2019. There are just two “isms” that describe gambling in Vegas, “tourism” and “capitalism.”
The increased competition for gamblers as entertainment-based retail, comes clear in a joke you would not hear at City Center. “What is the difference between an online casino and a live casino? – When you lose online and cry, no one will laugh at you.” The enclosures of the modern casino encourage over-confidence, leading to the illusion of security. Our brains like this as a sense of pleasure and contributes to the idea that an educated guess can be precise. Illusions of control also negate outcomes of chance into more extreme emotions such as a “near win” means getting close to one.
To the visitor, the core illusion is gambling is a personal decision not influenced by the environment or knowledge of “the odds.” Both support and encourage the fantasy of winning and a sense of superiority despite a uniform failure (not-wining) rate. This phenomenon is well understood; however, the public policy allows gambling while discouraging it as a dangerous, potentially addictive practice.
A growing proportion of society participates in gambling. The economic impact occurs in every public jurisdiction. It is not treated as a preventable problem, but a percentage of the population issue, leaving it to post-trauma “hot-lines” to resolve. Proof of a high-quality education system will occur when the “casino” as a land-use disappears or when no one other than the fabled 1% gamble.
Every resident, business, and neighborhood in the nation has a census tract. The Bureau of the Census has made significant improvements in providing online access to data for the ordinary person and there are thousands of tables on who we are as a nation, city, state, county. The census tract is the “where” of this data and it adds knowledge. Knowing the actual condition of our lives yields an assessment of fitness and reasons for action based on comparisons. The first and most important bit of that knowledge is to know that the harsh gavel of the patriarchy used to hammer society into submission cannot be used to dismantle that house effectively, one must know how the house got there in the first place.
The creation of the structures you enter to live, work, shop or play must be safe structures. To assure these objectives, the regulations governing land use and the practice of architecture, engineering, and construction are strict. When errors are discoverer and repair is impossible, the building comes down as in the case of Foster’s building in Las Vegas. The structures also have social and economic impacts, but these products are not well regulated or measured. The ideals of the American Constitution demand fair measures of equal treatment under the law, of fair and just compensation and unfettered access to quality education, and a “we the people” promise of fairness in the pursuit of happiness.
Following you will find a glimpse of the 2010 data on two U.S. Census tracts illustrated in the description of these two locations. This glimpse will await the final publication of the 2020 Census. It can be said with fairness that both locations are products of a largely racist power structure focused solely on the flow of capital as exhibited by the value of the real estate. The fulfillment of America’s constitutional ideals is deemed irrelevant or at best, secondary to that flow of capital. Ironically, improving the flow of capital is touted as the best remedy to whatever set of problems a social justice agenda might present. The quality of life, therefore, becomes a material consequence of profit, and rightly so, until a tipping point occurs when the measure of quality lowers to an ability to subsist.
Population, Sex, and Race
Census Tract 145 Manhattan (2018 estimates) has a total population of 5,960. It is 64.4% White, Non-Hispanic, and 38% of the population 15 years and older have never married. Census Tract 68 Las Vegas (2018 estimates), has a total population of 5,077. The White, Non-Hispanic population is 23.2%, and 45% of the population 15 years and older have never married.
|2010 City Center (CT 68)|
|Median age (years)||35.1|
|Sex ratio (males per 100 females)||101.9|
|Age dependency ratio||56.6|
|Old-Age dependency ratio||17.0|
|Child dependency ratio||39.6|
|Black or African American||7.4%|
|American Indian and Alaska Native||0.0%|
|Some other race||12.3%|
|Two or more races||1.0%|
|Hispanic or Latino origin (any race)||45.4%|
|White alone, not Hispanic or Latino||41.7%|
|2020 City Center (CT 68)|
|to be written|
|2010 Lincoln Square (CT 145)|
|Median age (years)||34.3|
|Sex ratio (males per 100 females)||105.0|
|Age dependency ratio||33.8|
|Old-Age dependency ratio||20.2|
|Child dependency ratio||13.6|
|Black or African American||3.8%|
|American Indian and Alaska Native||0.3%|
|Some other race||1.4%|
|Two or more races||2.7%|
|Hispanic or Latino origin any race)||14.4%|
|White alone, not Hispanic or Latino||69.4%|
|2020 Lincoln Square (CT 145)|
|to be written|
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