Ironically, Berlin could also emulate Las Vegas, not just Seattle

Now here’s some Food for Thought….the gentrification of Las Vegas? Unimaginable? Then China is shrinking Beijing and Shanghai to improve the quality of life…

Nearly a year ago, I flew to Milano, Italy from Berlin and sat next to a man who lived in Las Vegas and although he was not from Las Vegas, he chose to retire there and has no regrets. He told me that Las Vegas is no longer a Mafia town or “Sin City” and so dependent on gambling for income, but has evolved into a business center where people come for both work and pleasure. Lots of that work is tied to conventions and trade shows or some would describe as events. Work!?! Really?!? The urbanization of Las Vegas is the transformation from “Sin City” to “Experience City!”

Berlin also has a colorful history and many associate it with its decadent culture of the 20s and 30s. A city on the edge which continued after the war with the punishing wall defining its occupied status and the divide between the capitalist and communist worlds. There was always a sense of adventure visiting Berlin before the Iron Curtain came crashing down. Now Berlin is being transformed from “Poor, but Sexy” to hipster, cool, artsy, emerging and most importantly, still affordable! Wealth is created through start up ventures, biotechnology, clean energy, pharmaceuticals and real estate to name a few. Berlin is unique as it got to rebuild its center from scratch. Those playing the gentrifying trend, want new modern architecture that caters to the demands of communication technology (the internet) and electro-mobility (plugs for loading your car).

Global urbanization trends are challenging cities to absorb more people, grow their economies as Smart Cities by embracing new technologies, but also creating wealth or gentrification. As mentioned in the last post on Seattle being a model for Berlin, gentrification is controversial and some would say ruins the creative counter cultures that cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and Berlin thrive on. Then you have the appeal of artists colonies such as Santa Fe, NM or Carmel, CA.

The gentrification of Las Vegas sounds a bit like an oxymoron. But there is one ambitious entrepreneur, Tony Hsieh, the founder of the online shoe store called Zappos. Headquartered in Las Vegas, Hsieh has taken his own wealth in 2012 to fund Project Downtown. Here is an initial write-up.

“Zappos has its headquarters in downtown Vegas (away from the Strip), but Hsieh’s goals are broader. In 2009, he sold the company to Amazon for $1.2 billion, and with some of that money he started the Downtown Project.

“In one way, it’s a venture capital firm, trying to attract new industries. But in other ways, it’s much more ambitious. Hsieh wants to rethink city planning and imagines how a well-designed city can breed innovation.

“Hsieh’s Downtown Project, which is separate from Zappos, divides its $350 million budget between investing in small business, tech companies, education, arts, music and real estate.”

Five years in, Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Project is hardly any closer to being a real city

The gentleman sitting next to me described the growing importance of conventions such as the consumer electronics-gadgets fair, Comicon… Other alternatives  to Gaming: Clubs, Innovation (Project Downtown) and then Drones (Las Vegas wants to be the center for Drone development and manufacturing)…

Finally, mentioned in their daily on March 26 that there are concerted efforts to shrink Beijing and Shanghai in order to improve the quality of life. Growing or emerging too fast creates some uncomfortable side effects:

“What ailes China’s big cities, and what can be done to cure them?

“It’s a question that’s on a lot of policy makers’ minds in China, and one with incredible consequences depending on how it’s answered. The ailments of the cities — what are known as “urban diseases” (城市病 chéngshì bìng; also known as “big city disease”) in China — are familiar to major metropolises around the world, but there is substantial disagreement about how to treat them:

  • Traffic jams
  • Environmental degradation
  • Water scarcity
  • Housing scarcity
  • Employment scarcity
  • Social services scarcity

“In the past year, China’s city planners have settled on a primary solution to urban diseases: capping the population of the biggest cities, even if it meant brutally evicting migrants and sending them back to their home provinces, and building new cities out of nothing that are better designed to handle high concentrations of people. Authorities essentially determined that all of the various urban diseases could be, or needed to be, treated with a single solution of redistributing the population. And so, the megacities of Shanghai and Beijing — the world’s two largest by city proper and among the top 10 by metro area — both decreased slightly in population in 2017, the Financial Times reports (paywall).”

Interesting, Seattle residents really complain about all the ailments above except for water and employment scarcity. Las Vegas is transient and has to keep working on building or creating a local, homegrown culture. Berlin is special still…

…Berlin offers a quality of living, plenty of water, but needs to embrace gentrification as a side-effect of a well managed growing economy which allows for both creativity and wealth–each depend on the other! At the end of the day, all cities while emerging will be measured on their Return on Investment and all cities have the luxury of this measurement reflecting Quality of Life and their Vision rather than simply financial returns!


One Reply to “Ironically, Berlin could also emulate Las Vegas, not just Seattle”

  1. Jennifer Lea Haight says: Reply

    Dear Stephanie, Great observations! Lucky you live in Berlin where there seems to be unlimited potential to become a leading city in this new millennial age! Keep up the good work! Aloha from the boonies of Kaua’i where we fight growing traffic everyday. Heavy traffic seems to be a huge problem all over the World with the booming population everywhere! It’s Interesting what China is doing by creating new cities from scratch hopefully using alternative clean energy in the process.

    Heading fo Singapore, an Asian City State melting pot, including Malay, Asians, Europeans and East Indians since it was established as a Republic from a British colony just over 50 years ago in 1965! It’s been over 30 years since my last visit and I’m looking forward to see the changes there too! They have a list of 15 things not to do in Singapore such as not chewing gum, nor going barefoot, no pointing, no smoking, no drugs, going nude even in private, no pornagraphy, no littering, no discussion of politics or religion, must flush the toilet and take public transportation instead of taxis and no eating on them not even a piece of candy! Etc etc etc. Must be a very polite and clean city to say the least! I remember back in the ‘70s when they would cut men’s hair if they thought it was too long, ie no hippies! I’m looking forward to visiting the indoors Botanical Gardens there where you need a jacket because of the air conditioning! Should be an interesting trip and only 17 hours non stop from San Francisco! Keep up your good work! LoHuKi! Jennifer

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