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Joe Downtown

Joe Downtown: For the area to really succeed, more need to work and live here

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Even down here in “the Bubble,” the Green Zone of like-minded redevelopers whose worldview is only occasionally obstructed by the sight of the homeless or deranged, people bitch.

About the outsiders.

Outsider used to mean anyone who hadn’t lived here five years or more. Now it’s someone who hasn’t been here six months. Down here in Oz, freshmen residents have earned the right to look askance at newbies — at least until the newbies earn their stripes.

But the real targets of gossip, the real recipients of rolled eyes and faux greetings are those who work here but live somewhere else. They are in business or setting up businesses. You’ll see them spend money at Downtown restaurants, see them smiling, busy with their work, convinced what they’re doing is of great importance to Downtown Las Vegas’ future. But they haven’t done what so many others have. They haven’t moved here.

I won’t name names. There are many, and in many different avenues of business. Most of us understand not wanting to live here. It’s hotter than blazes in the summer, and then when it gets a little cold in the winter, it feels frigid. I moved here with a mind to leave in a few years. It’s now 16 years later. Almost everyone I know has moved here from somewhere else and has a similar story.

We’ve always had the problem of transiency: those who blow into town make a pot of money — or whatever they can — and blow right back out. That’s a big reason we’re a bottom feeder when it comes to education and health systems. If you don’t commit to living somewhere, you don’t demand better quality. You know you and your kids aren’t in it for the long haul. You’re not planting roots.

Of course, in some ways the mastermind behind Downtown’s revitalization, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, has made this more acceptable. At least on paper. Perhaps realizing it would take a while for potential business owners to look at Las Vegas as a true home — but at the same time touting “community” as his ultimate goal — Hsieh has modified his formula to make it easier for outsiders to be seen as contributing to the community.

He originally wanted at least 100 people per square mile to live Downtown, a number history has generally proved to create a sustainable economy. Then he changed it.

Estimating residents spend three to four hours per day in the community, or roughly 1,000 hours per year, his new goal is 1,000 “collisionable” hours per person per year. That means visitors, not just permanent residents, could contribute by being part-timers; 40 hours a week for 25 weeks gets you to 1,000 hours.

But doing that certainly isn’t the same as living here. And, not surprisingly, a key element of what creates a “sense of community” is shared history. Think of the mental bond between those who laughed and worried about electrocution as a storm blew into town during the synchronized swimming display at the Gold Spike the night of the Zappos headquarters grand opening. Or the people who had a bitchfest about the lack of a grocery store Downtown. Or complained about the stubborn cabbies who won’t give rides.

The part-timers are the college kids who went home every weekend because they never broke it off with their girlfriend still in high school. And when their high school relationship ended, guess what they found back on campus when they came looking to join in? No one had held their place in line.

Joe Schoenmann doesn’t just cover Downtown; he lives and works there. He is Greenspun Media Group’s embedded Downtown journalist, stationed at an office in Emergency Arts. His work appears in the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Weekly.
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