Welcome to our guest blogger, Professor Sue Roaf, expert in environmental architecture and passionate advocate of sustainability. Here is her postcard from Las Vegas- the heartland of denial.
Cruising the Strip and playing the pokies here in Las Vegas I won and was wonder-struck by Bling-city Las Vegas. My favourite film is Blade Runner and I was living the dream …….and researching a lecture for the Architecture School here. It did not take long for the awe to turn to horrawe at the plans they have for the city.
The city and neighbouring Clark County have a new hobby – imploding buildings. They get an idea that a tower block is ‘sooooooo last year’ and blow it up. They have over $30 billion worth of new developments on the books with the first one being the City Centre Development. This covers two blocks of an imploded MGM lot and will include 7 major buildings covering 1.8 million square meters of hotels, residences and casino. It will house 8000 new apartments and will need 12,000 additional staff to service it, who in turn will need housing, schools and cars. This, in a city with high levels of employment, soaring house prices and an electricity and water supply system in crisis.
On the back of an envelope my host, Alfredo Fernandez, an architecture Professor here at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, and I gasped at every new calculation.
Each new resident will need 20,000 kWh of electricity a year. That will be 400,000 megawatts at a cost of $40,000,000 a year producing 160,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum. But that is at a time when Wall Street Analysts predict that the $60 barrel of oil will be $300 a barrel by 2015 energy running costs may be five times higher- $200,000,000 a year at a time when many of the median income visitors will no longer be able to afford the air flights in.
The total electricity output generated by the Hoover, Parker and David Dams is only 200,000 megawatts in a good year. So the new development will need yet more power. They are already building two more coal power stations. They are also commissioning the Solar One 64 megawatt solar generator in the Nevada Desert but even with this they still will not have the generating capacity to keep the lights on in the new development let alone the rest of the Strip. Haven’t they done the Math ???
Then there is water. This new development will create additional demand for 2,300,000,000 gallons of water per year. . This is taking a very conservative assumption of 10,000 people in the development multipled by the average Las Vegas Valley consumption of around 230,000 gallons of water per year
Las Vegas already has barely enough water for the next 20 years at current rates of depletion of the vast dam complexes that serve it including the Hoover Dam. The warming climate has led to the rapidly decreasing snow pack on the Rockies that feeds the Colorado rivers and its dams. The Hoover dam alone is 104 feet below its 1998 peak and falling inexorably lower.
Nevada is already triggering a water war with neighbouring Utah as it tries to purloin its underground water reserves by drilling in areas in the north of the State like Snake Valley and it seems that once again the lawyers will be the ones to cash in big time. In the face of this Las Vegas just gets more and more water and energy greedy.
From the Colorado River every year Arizona takes 2.8 million acre-feet, California = 4.4 million acre-feet, Mexico = 1.5 million acre-feet and Nevada a mere 300,000 acre-feet from which the Las Vegas Valley draws 90 percent of all the water. 1 acre-foot = c. 326,000 gallons. Lake Mead behind the Hoover Dam today holds an optimistic 13,958 KAF (thousand acre feet), not allowing for the considerable silting with is filling its bottom. This is 4,550,308,000,000 Gallons, around 54% of its potential capacity. Lake Mead may have enough water for 2000 years of this new City Centre development, but will it be able to provide for the five more huge developments on the books plus the rapidly population of greater Las Vegas area – 1.6 million people and rising.
And that is not to mention the Golf Courses (Turf requires 60 gallons of water per year per square foot, compared with xeriscaping, which requires 20 gallons of water per year per square foot). A web of corruption ensures that more and more are built every year. One new development proposing seven courses alone. For example see the corruption mooted in relation to the Royal Links course: LINK…
This is all happening at a time when the city tells householders they can’t collect their own rain water and can’t put in new trees around their homes.
What really amazes me is that the design of the proposed developments are sooooooooo 20th century. Big name, unsustainable architects wheeled in to put up huge glass towers that are the most stupid and energy inefficient buildings in the history of the world. Who do they think will buy these places? Who would choose to sit in a glass box with ‘full view’ forty floors up when the energy begins to fail (as it did for nearly three days recently in the Bellagio Casino development), and when the water can’t get all the way to the top of the building ? The Arabs are too busy chucking their oil dollars down the Dubai pan at the moment and the Chinese, happy as they are to spend an hour or two at the tables, are not unintelligent investors. They too have very large amounts of their readies wrapped up in city projects in China.
One gets the idea that this is not even about dreams anymore. If you ask the project
promoters ‘what particular dream are you selling in this glass tower to investors’.. they have to admit ignorance… they have lost the thread and that magic dream that has drawn seekers of dreams to Las Vegas for the past half century.
It was energy that created Las Vegas – the millions of megawatts of it that the Hoover Dam started generating in 1936, that enabled it to become the home to great inventions like the cluster bomb and the two show girl Mayor. It is energy that will see it out as new developments like the City Centre, and its short sighted architects like Norman Foster, push it over the energy cliff. It is perhaps fitting that one of the greatest global polluters in the world will be first over the cliff – but hey – you pays your money and you takes your chance – that’s show biz !