Thursday, March 13, 2008


What Happened in Vegas?

I have been learning a lot lately about communities from an Urban Planning point of view. One of the ideas that is most interesting to me is how history of a place, or people's knowledge of local history can create an emotional connection with the place that enhances community. And in this context I think of community the way that is most natural to me, which is less focused on the built environment and more about people. When I reflect on my own connection to my community, history does indeed come into play, but I have acquired my knowledge of this place via people's personal stories as much as (or more than) learning about its physical history in more institutionally mediated ways.

As you might imagine when reading about urban planning/community, Las Vegas comes up a lot. It is held up as the poster child for all that is evil! The strip in particular seems designed to distort any sense of history, and any sense of place. Think about it, you can go to Paris, Venice, Egypt, and New York all in an hour! However Las Vegas is more than the strip.

I thought about the marketing phrase “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas!” I have a proclivity to think of words and phrases as having almost physical/literal meaning attached. So this slogan put though my filter really resonated. If everything that happens in Vegas stays there, and their are millions of visitors every year (I don't know the number now, but its a lot!) and they are all encouraged to do things they normally wouldn't do at home. Then Las Vegas holds an enormous amount of history!

So... My idea at this early stage of development is to go to Vegas, set up at the air port and the bus station and ask people who are leaving to tell me a story about something that happened during their visit.

I am thinking to make a zine (or a series of small zines) that include these stories along with some more traditional local history, and stories given to me by people who live and work in Las Vegas, not necessarily on the strip.

I have several ideas for distribution. My first idea was to pass out the zines on the strip in the same way that the porno and sex show people do, I understand this custom has changed somewhat, but I still want to explore this strategy.

Another idea is to perhaps distribute them to out going visitors at the air port, in this case it would be like smuggling what happened in Vegas out... it could be called the smuggler! Maybe I could get an airline “onboard” to distribute them on flights in and out of Vegas.

Another possibility is to partner with a local radio station to tell “a story a day”. I remembered what was one of the most comical memories I had from when I turned 40 and a friend took me to Vegas. We stayed at the Tropicana (chosen for the best vintage movie star pool-side ambiance) and every time we got in the elevator going up to or down from our room there was a sonorous message repeated over and over, always preceded by a long smooth low ...dong... “Las Vegas, the city of dreams where players win and winners play” HA!!!! I loved it! Anyhow I thought maybe I could partner with the tropicana to play Vegas history and local stories in the elevators instead...... Actually there were several other experiences like this, where one is being advertised to about where they already are. For example, the side walks on the strip are so far away from some of the casinos that the casinos provide moving walkways to take you in. While you are on the walk way you are shown video and/or audio extolling the virtues of where you are inevitably headed! This was hilarious to me, why describe the benefits of the belly of the whale to Jacob when he is already in the throat! Perhaps this would be another venue to disseminate Vegas' history.

I would like to distribute the zines too in places where locals will find them, grocery stores, coffee shops etc.

Until I do some more research and start collecting stories I can't know what this will look like, however my intent is to catalyze a perception of Las Vegas as a real place, a more personal way of looking that employs and acknowledges spectacle in order to point away from it.