Las Vegas, the city of flashing lights, street performers/impersonators and everything in-between….just a few of many things that come to mind with the slight mention of this adult play field (cue Elvis’ Viva Las Vegas). Having had the fortune to visit on a few occasions, I have to say that the city is starting to grow on me in an unexpected fashion (and no, not just because a very handsome man I happen to know resides there). Perhaps viewing the seemingly glitzy facade of the city through a local’s lens has given a different perspective into the real heart of Sin City.
For my fellow urban city goers looking to see more of the City beyond the Strip, the following places are a must see (starting with a personal favorite):
Container Park – the practice of urban revitalization and infill development often entail the redevelopment of old dilapidated buildings or the development of new buildings, which eventually become derelict or outdated themselves. Well, what if instead of old buildings you had vast amount of land in high valued urban areas and were at the same time seeking opportunities to create vibrant community spaces? Downtown Las Vegas did exactly just that. Referred to as flexible urbanism, as part of the Downtown Project, the Container Park was created in 2013 temporarily employing and “installing repurposed shipping containers to house small businesses such as cafes, boutiques, bars, galleries, and more.” Even more notable, the park itself contains community space, outdoor seating, playground structures and a live outdoor music space. The entire outdoor space is endured by romantic overhanging lights and art. Container Park or what I like to call a mini urban playground for all ages is a perfect daytime or romantic evening spot.
Downtown Las Vegas – in line with the theme from above, downtown Las Vegas has recently undergone a major transformation thanks to the CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh and now founder of the ambitious startup-city development Downtown Project. The $350 million vision turned 60 acres of Downtown Las Vegas into a growing tech city with a new district of big time chef restaurants (we dined at carson's kitchen), swanky lounges and bars adorned with art, chandeliers and all the marvelous wallpaper and deco any urbanist could ever dream of. Need not worry though, as one can still enjoy the comforts of Vegas by gambling near by at one of the casinos or being bemused by the glitzy lights, dancers and a whole lot of skin as you make your way down the Fremont Street experience. But just a few blocks down, a whole new world (and crowd) awaits, adorned with cocktails lounges and hidden gems of restaurants. It will be exciting to see what the future awaits of this forgotten part of Las Vegas.
Red Rocks Canyon – even a happy urbanista every now and then needs to get away from the madness of city life to reclaim sanity and connect with Mother Nature. Fortunately, incredible nature’s beauty awaits just 15 miles from the Strip. The Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area offers breathtaking views and numerous hiking trails suited for different abilities. If you are looking for a hard work’s day & supposedly breathtaking views, then I would recommend the strenuous Turtlehead peak trail, ascending up to 2,000 feet (and one we have yet to conquer).
The Linq – if you want to remain close to civilization, then, in fair proximity to the Strip is a romantic open-air promenade district lined with unique retail, dining and entertainment, anchored by the word’s tallest observation Ferris wheel. Not just your typical Ferris wheel, the High Roller provides futuristic experience, with the option to hop into one of the cabins with your own personal bar. What better way to take in the Vegas views then with a refreshing cocktail in your hand! A Las Vegas Monorail can even be seen from above making this transportation geek one very happy urbanista. Looking for something else to do, grab a lavender cocktail at one of the swanky indoor to outdoor cocktail lounges before catching a hip-hop show at the Brooklyn Bowl (we happened to stumble upon Redman & Method Man show on our walk)…just your typical Monday night in Vegas.
Hoover Dam – looking for a good way to ease into the craziness of Vegas and for an opportunity to be in two states at once? Well, look no further as the the Hoover Dam is just 45 minutes from the City. Located on Lake Mead (which you will most likely find yourself adorning from high above in the skies as you fly into Vegas), the Dam and the newly constructed arch bridge, (the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge) 1,500 ft above the water will sure put your fear of heights to an incredible test. Cruise down the windy roads and enjoy the views of the futuristic and somewhat apocalyptic towers located near the dam, positioned mid-water, sure to make you amazed at this ahead of its time construction.
Goodsprings, Nevada – last destination on this whirlwind tour of Vegas is the old and derelict city of Goodsprings, also home to one of the oldest saloons in Nevada, the Pioneer Saloon. The saloon is said to be haunted and has a room adorned with memorials to both Clark Gable and Carole Lombard (if unfamiliar with the story, read up here). Visiting Goodsprings will fulfill the void of experiencing the atmosphere of a real desert & abandoned city. To top off the experience, embark on a walking tour of what was once an old mining town, but is now lined with old abandoned buildings that provide a brief history of the town that once was. Even for someone who is amazed by urban and large/dense cities, there is something eerie yet intriguing about these old towns that once served as a staple for workers & their families, but are now simply ghost towns.
Las Vegas has certainly made an impression on me and I only hope that others will get to see these unique parts of the real Sin City. And hey, you never know, somewhere along the way, you may even fall in love…
Images by author, unless otherwise specified. Data linked to sources.
Being that this is a blog about happy cities and walkable urbanism, it is only fitting that I commence this journey with a place where it all began. Nestled within nooks of mountains in Eastern Europe, in the area known as the Balkans, is a small and resilient country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Born and raised in a city of approximately 50,000, Goražde was the ultimate example of a dense, residentially compact, walkable and sustainable city. My early childhood days were filled with play, personal freedom and independence afforded by the ability to walk everywhere. The one-owned family car was only used on Sundays to visit the grandparents.
Sadly, the unrest and destitution that was caused during the war between the early to mid nineties has left this powerless but nonetheless charming country in turmoil with severe political, economic and social hardships (to be discussed at a later date).
Bosnia’s rich history and various cultural influences are clearly exhibited in its ethnicity, religion, architecture, and city formation. Prior to the civil war, different cultures and religions coexisted peacefully as this is still evident in Sarajevo with synagogues, churches and mosques all in close vicinity of one another. Just as the Ottoman Empire is reflected in many folk stories and traditions, the history itself is clearly present in the compact, cobblestone streets of Baščaršija. In Sarajevo, the capitol of Bosnia, walking and transit prevail as the primary modes of transportation.
In recent years, many tourists are finding their way to this small Adriatic peninsula and discovering its charming façade. Still, a lot yet remains unknown of Bosnia’s future. What I do know is that I am grateful for having had the opportunity to reside in a place that has not only taught me how to remain humble (not having electricity, water or food will do that), but it has in some twisted way, beyond the real and unimaginative struggle, taught me to appreciate creativity and good design (in terms of city and architecture) that gave me the self independence and determination as a child to grow and flourish during a time when everything else around me was slowly perishing away.
The following photos were taken on my first trip back since moving to the U.S. in 2007 and provide just a minor glimpse into the beauty of this hidden gem.
Images by author, unless otherwise specified. Data linked to sources.
Full time City Transportation Planner. Part time urbanista dreamer & traveler residing in Minneapolis, Minnesota.