I had been to Las Vegas twice before and knew the downtown experience would be much different. Old Vegas, too, had bright lights and gambling but a purpose separate from The Strip’s – community.
The Downtown Project is transforming an antiquated city – by Las Vegas’s standards, in which a landmark resort dates all the way back to 1989 – into the most community-focused large city in the world, where happiness, luckiness, innovation, and productivity run wild. It’s fascinating to observe how the project is working and to consider its implications for revitalizing other cities. In fact, you can read some of Justin’s thoughts on this topic. My thoughts are centered on what I guess would be the next step:
What happens when the project is taken outside of the city context?
Say, into higher education –
After all, they do claim, “downtown Vegas makes you smarter.”
Here are a few of the Downtown Project’s principles and where they might lead in the context of higher education:
Engineer community through serendipity
The Downtown Las Vegas (DTLV) community is committed to life, work, play integration, where all three sectors are in walking distance of each other. That means people are literally running into each other while rushing to work, lingering after dinner, or considering a yoga class. As these collisions continue to happen, people begin pairing or triading up to further the serendipitous discussions. Luckily, the city has created shared workspaces for this purpose. The goal? DTLV becomes the co-working capital of the world.
For an already close-knit college campus –
What if the campus visit was orchestrated so that prospective students collided with current students and candid professors?
What if students were required to utilize on-campus working spaces and report serendipitous conversations or connections?
What if faculty and staff were found more frequently in the libraries, bookstores, and dining spaces?
Up the number and accessibility of learning opportunities
In addition to living, working, and playing in close proximity, the Downtown Project is increasing the number of learning opportunities available to the public. Most recently is the development of The Inspire Theater, located on the can’t-miss-it corner of Las Vegas Blvd and Fremont St. The theater will host guest and community speakers. The project also operates on a weekly-themed basis, where activities are offered based on which week it is: Arts, Tech, Fashion, and Catalyst.
For an already learning-centered community:
What if students didn’t have to check their calendars to have an idea of what events were happening? For instance, they knew the fourth week was science and technology.
What if professors spoke at coffee shops or bars, sharing off-curriculum talks that might be more engaging to students?
What if friends of the staff or faculty shared works in progress as a way of connecting within and beyond the campus setting?
Underpinning the various elements of the project is playfulness and fun. After all, they are taking a city and treating it like a startup. And nowhere else is a work hard-play hard balance more effective and productive than in a startup company. This passion for having fun covered the downtown streets last month through music, food, art, and learning at the inaugural Life is Beautiful Festival. It was a celebration of life being beautiful and the beautiful opportunities that come to and through us in life.
For an experience often considered the best four years of your life:
What if fun was brought back into the classroom through more activities-based learning?
What if time was distributed equally between developing cognitive and non-cognitive skills?
What if it was clear that a postsecondary education resulted in a better life and not just a diploma on the wall?
if Downtown Las Vegas makes you smarter, what does higher education make you?