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Las Vegas – A Case of Urban Restructuring

Las Vegas, an erstwhile satellite of Los Angeles in United States is now a thriving metropolis reputed for bringing hyper reality in to every day lives. Like many other cities, Las Vegas too, developed along the rail road lines. Las Vegas metropolitan area which is also known as the Las Vegas valley stretches around 600 square miles. It comes under the Clark county and a part of Nevada state.

The area was originally occupied by Mormon farmers in 1854 which was taken over by the U.S. Army in 1864. In 1902, major chunk of land was bought by William Clark, a Montana senator from a rancher's widowed wife. The senator divided the land in to many plots and put them for sale immediately after the construction of the railroad in 1905. Las Vegas became the trans-shipment point and a rail road repair centre and received another boost when the rail road was extended to the silver towns of Bullfrog and Rhyolite. The new residents of the town took the initiative to get water supply for which a syndicate was created called Vegas Artesian Water Syndicate in 1907. This initiative boosted the confidence and commitment of the residents to develop the city even after the withdrawal of the Union Pacific Rail Road from Las Vegas by closing the repair facility. The best option sought by the entrepreneurs of the region was to develop Las Vegas as a tourist resort.

Las Vegas & post modernism
Monorail connectivity of casinos showcases another facet of Las Vegas that juxtaposes consumerism and the post modern consumption. As Firat (2001, p109) observes, Las Vegas of course is the urban space of the hyper reality and simulations. And in that sense, it has also maintained fragmentation, through which a consumer gets totally involved in to the enclaves of exotic experiences and every time gets a new experience, as all the hotels and casinos maintain different themes. While theme parks are not new and have come to take place in almost every post modern city, Las Vegas stands apart in its multiple themes thus not singling out one particular theme identity of the city. Firat (ibid) points out that Las Vegas has inculcated a typical mentality that takes the hyper real beyond the original experience and makes that experience more memorable than the original. This is made possible with new technologies that help in creating simulations more impressive and imaginary rather than just reproduction of the original. This depicts the mentality of people and city in wanting experiences of the past and future while in the present in the seductive form. This motive is expressed by the architects of Luxor hotel : "in designing the architectural motif and configuration of this pre-Egyptian civilization, our idea was that everything you've even seen in Egypt is a poor facsimile of what this high technology civilization developed" (as cited in Firat, 2001, p109). Thus the simulations of Las Vegas have been powerful in becoming really real and thus taking the place of real in every day lives.

Las Vegas and Post modern consumption
As said earlier, tourism industry is the biggest in Las Vegas getting tourists of different nationalities and ethnicities from different parts of the world. Apparently, twenty nine million tourists visited Las Vegas in 1995 (Firat, 2001, p110). And visitors these days are interested in having varied experiences of hyper simulations and thematizations rather than just gambling. And so gambling and thematization have been packaged by the hotels and casinos to give the best variety of experiences to the consumers.  Firat (ibid) observes that this has brought an intriguing transformation in the consumer mentality. In the consumer's mind the distinction between the artificial and the actual has been blurred. This blurring is not in terms of physical distinction but in terms of the experiential value. For instance the artificial volcano in front of Mirage hotel of course can be distinguished from the natural volcano but the experience one has with the artificial simulations is so exhaustive that one needs no natural situations to get that experience.
The visitors in to the pyramid of Luxor hotel experience the artefacts of pharoah's tombs that look so real and so prefer these experiences which take them in to the situation while the actual tombs  depict only the remains. Thus Firat (ibid) points out that,  experiences of the fantasy have become integral to the experience of the real so much that, there is a growing feeling among the consumers that the reality of the experience is less a source of intensity and meaning. This diminishing demarcation between fantasy and real in terms of experiential value seen in the contemporary consumer culture makes it clear that the intensity of experience is a function of its spectacularity and its ability to evoke meaning rather than its reality.
According to the modernist discourse, the real is independent of the human agency and exists only to be discovered, where as, fantasy is created and constructed. For instance New York or Los Angeles are the real wonders to be discovered while Disney land and Universal studios are spectacular to enjoy. But for an ordinary, modern  consumer, both are equally fantastic and spectacular and it is only in the feeling and thinking that they differentiate between the two. For a post modern consumer, fantasy is so integral and thrilling that the hyper real becomes almost real. This is so true in the case of Las Vegas which is visited by both post modern and the modern consumers. Firat (2001, p 113) identifies the modern consumers as those who visit Las Vegas to gamble to get material fortunes through which material opulence can be acquired. There the impulse of the modern consumer is to buy in order to appropriate value and to use. Where as the post modern consumers visit Las Vegas seeking varied experiences and through them search for meanings of life in the present because they have lost faith in singular experiences and therefore would like to expose themselves to different experiences to grasp the life realities.
This quest for new and varied experiences of the post modern consumers is well recognised by the business men of Las Vegas who cash on their need and create innovative encounters. Monorail connectivity of casinos is one of these attempts to keep the customers anchored to the wonder worlds and take them by default through varied experiences. But in this endeavour, again hegemony of the market ideology takes the lead. The construction of spaces and urban encounters are created and packaged for a commercial purpose as a result of which the post modern consumer does not get the total satisfaction of the experiences. In such circumstances, as Firat (2001, p 114) observes, the meaning of consumption also gets transformed. The post modern consumer ends up purchasing the experiences in pre-packaged forms. The intention of the consumer in getting novel experiences is met by a package of experiences pre-determined and show cased in order to be purchased for a price. Thus the post modern consumer is led in to the trap of the market forces. Where the modern consumer would purchase pre-packaged products, the post modern consumer ends up purchasing life experiences in the garb of novelty but again in a pre-determined form. Las Vegas typically depicts this post modern city where urban living is surrounded by a hyper reality for the market driven material consumption.
The simulacra or the hyper simulations in the post modern urban situations often produce a lot of paradoxes for the consumers. For instance, the urban professionals lost in the urban routine feel detached from their true selves and seek novel experiences. Simcities like Las Vegas offer many varied alternatives of experiences. But these experiences come to them through a series of commercial packages and within these packages, many experiences are pre planned to provide the utmost thrill and exciting encounter. The paradox in this, as Firat (ibid) points out, is that people who have been living real lives in their real world through out the year while feeling loss of self, find their self or at least feel that they have found one in their two weeks of encounters in hyper reality where every experience is designed and prefabricated with a commercial interest.
The urban landscape is also restructured for creating these make-believe worlds. For instance, the old Fremont Street which was the gambling centre of downtown Las Vegas experienced   major renovation and had a complete face lift as a result of mega projects on Las Vegas Strip.  Traditional neighbourhoods are rearranged along with emergence of mini cities within hotels and casinos. Urban development took a centrifugal path, along with increasing congestion, environmental pollution and water shortages. Las Vegas remained a prototype for any other American city and its model of development cautions the other cities of impact of fantasy on real life in creating virtual reality.  When fantasy takes over real, as Baudrillard (1994, p146) asserts, all reality becomes residual. He recognises that this is the problem of our times where the real is supplanted but still remains.

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