10 miles to everywhere

Patrick Gibbons

*The two red circles represent a 10-mile radius from the southern and northern ends of the Las Vegas Strip.

Moody’s Analytics and Brookings West (a local affiliate of the left-of-center, Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution) are concerned about “sprawl” in the Las Vegas metro area. Brookings and Moody’s seem to think we need a higher population density, with more high- and mid-rise condos and a light rail system. One of their main reasons is that 90 percent of the jobs in Las Vegas are located within 10 miles of downtown.

The problem is, downtown Las Vegas is basically the Las Vegas Strip (or right near it), and about 90 percent of Las Vegas is already within 10 miles of the Strip. Las Vegas hasn’t sprawled (not that sprawl is a bad thing).

Next, building more high- and mid-rise condos is the wrong approach. The problem is that high- and mid-rise condos have been hit especially hard in this market. They’re struggling because people don’t want to buy them! People like single-family residences.

Finally, the population and size of Las Vegas aren’t that large. The Las Vegas metro area has about 1.8 million residents spread out over 600 square miles of the valley – about 3,000 people per square mile (and about 4,100 per square mile within the city of Las Vegas itself).

The Phoenix metro area, by comparison, has a population of 4.3 million. Among the cities in the Phoenix metro area with populations of over 100,000 are: Chandler, which has 4,200 residents per square mile; Glendale (4,300); Gilbert (2,800); Mesa (3,500); Scottsdale (1,300); Tempe (4,000); Peoria (975); and Phoenix itself, with a population density of about 3,000 people per square mile.

The METRO Light Rail in the Phoenix area is projected to lose $28 million a year – and that doesn’t even include repaying the $1.4 billion in bonds it took to build the rail. If Phoenix, with its much larger population, can’t operate a rail system without pumping taxpayer subsidies into it, why should we even bother?

Las Vegas, like Phoenix, has moderate population density, but its density is still less than half that of dense urban areas like L.A. (8,200), Washington, D.C. (9,700), Boston (12,000), and New York City (over 27,000 people per square mile).

Is the goal to waste money on expensive projects and to build housing that people don’t want?