From Sin to Sim City

Can Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh Reinvent Downtown Las Vegas?

Story by Daniel Brook

Photography by Aaron Mayes

Published on Apr 23, 2012

Download PDF

Love it or hate it, Las Vegas is one of the country’s most fertile hothouses for experiments with urban form. This is, after all, the place that it made it OK for a real estate developer to erect faux pyramids at the entrance of a multiplex or mall, and name said development after an ancient Egyptian city. As architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown famously pointed out in their seminal book, Learning from Las Vegas, the city serves as a neon-bright example of how meaning can be imparted onto a commercial area through symbols and signs. Despite Las Vegas’ undeniable influence on contemporary U.S. downtowns, the city’s own downtown has flailed throughout the last half-century. In this piece, journalist Daniel Brook provides a thoughtful examination of the latest reinvention effort: A $350 million bid by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh to transform the downtown into Nevada’s own little San Francisco. With a critical eye, Brook takes a deep look at Hsieh’s Downtown Project and what it means for the urbanist movement. This story is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the business of placemaking.

Subscribe to Forefront for only $20/year.
You’ll get a new story each week and full access to our archives.