Many city dwellers avoid the suburbs, and vice versa. Consequently, small changes in a city neighborhood - a new apartment building, a new business, etc - get a huge amount of attention from city folks while larger projects in the suburbs - new subdivisions, corporate headquarters - do not. The Twin Cities region has 3.3M people in it, and 700k live in the core cities. We care about our specific community, we’re most sensitive to changes we can see, and we’re accustomed to big investments happening elsewhere that are not our concern. If you can about sustainability, this is not a great idea.
So, what happens when there’s a mutation in how and where investments are made? What happens if all of that capital that normally flows to the suburbs flows to a city neighborhood? Is that good?
Tony Hsieh sold Zappos to Amazon in 2009, then he read Triumph of the City by Ed Glaeser in 2011. He took the message about cities being dynamic places to heart and was inspired to relocate their headquarters from suburban Las Vegas into the city’s largely moribund downtown. They bought the old City Hall. They decided to invest $350,000,000 in the neighborhood - knowing that they would be unable to attract and retain employees if the new location wasn’t safe, interesting, and fun. The result is the Downtown Project.
I took a day off from a climbing trip to check out the neighborhood, and it’s insane. These photos show Emergency Arts, a creative cooperative in a former hospital that opened in 2010. A representative from the Downtown Project told me that the coffee shop / record store inside, The Beat, is their informal headquarters. It was the first independent coffeeshop in downtown Las Vegas when it opened in 2010. I didn’t see a single customer shopping for records. During the afternoon I worked there, I heard snippets of conversation like, “Well, it turns out we’re opening another bar across the street from the other bar we’re opening,” and, “Yeahh, I guess we’re buying a building? In the Arts District? It’s pretty big. How big? Like… this one. Similar to this one,” and lots and lots of pitches.
So, clearly the Downtown Project didn’t make Emergency Arts, but they opened a coworking space upstairs, and the building was humming with related activity. Most of the former hospital rooms are individual studios, and there was virtually no one in any of those spaces while I was there, but they were all unique and interesting. More interesting than normal - not slapdash, clearly there are more resources available than normal. There is a lot of stuff in the hallways: art, billboards, a zine library (!). It’s how you’d imagine an art studio building in close proximity to a huge benefactor that wants the neighborhood to be interesting to look and feel.