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Guardian Cities: A Stay in Tony Hsieh’s Downtown Las Vegas

 “You have to promise not to drink the Kool-Aid there.” That’s what a colleague familiar with Las Vegas’s infamous “Downtown Project” told me just before I went out to experience this outlandish experiment in urban revival for myself.

Certainly, the $350m (£225m) investment in businesses and other spaces in the city’s depressed core by multi-millionaire internet entrepreneur and retailer Tony Hsieh is in a fragile state. Some of the excitement and acclaim that met the effort at its beginning in 2012 has already congealed into a mixture of ridicule, schadenfreude and plain confusion: did Hsieh really think he could run a city like an internet startup? What did he really intend in the first place? And has he already abandoned ship?

Hsieh’s story, one well-told among American urbanists, resonates with the country’s culture on several levels. The Harvard-educated child of Taiwanese immigrants became rich in the late 1990s when Microsoft purchased LinkExchange, the internet advertising firm he had founded after ditching his corporate job.

Hsieh’s subsequent foray into venture capitalism led to his investment in the idea of an online shoe store, which soon morphed into the “service company that just happens to sell shoes” (in Hsieh’s own description) now better known as Zappos. When he brought his company to downtown Las Vegas, Hsieh also brought his entrepreneurial spirit, his reputation as an unpretentious bon vivant, and his media-friendly sense of spectacle. Furthermore, he brought his interest in privately creating a new start for the city’s depressed centre – its original gambling district, before the supercharged Strip took over.

Read the whole thing at The Guardian.

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