The casino mecca is piloting countless new technologies in public spaces in a bid to boost its smart-city brand.
Worrying about the risks will come later.
Las Vegas’ let-it-ride approach contrasts with the way other cities have deliberated over their self-digitization. Customarily, companies compete in response to a city’s request for proposals for a particular product or service in order prove that their offerings are the best. Other tech-curious mid-sized cities have released hefty RFPs in search of smart city solutions over the past year. Last year, Atlanta listed its wish for consultants to help it map best practices for its tech-ified future, rather than continue to implement piecemeal pilots. Columbus, Ohio, beckoned for IT gurus to help it build an open data portal and operational spine to organize various software-based endeavors. In June, Kansas City, Missouri outlined in novella-length depth its dream for a single vendor capable of supplying “a fully integrated suite of sensors, networks, and data and analytics platforms.”
“The amount of autonomy they’ve got is unrivaled,” Bob Bennett, the chief innovation officer for Kansas City, said of Las Vegas. “For us, we have to know it has worked technically someplace else before we try it. If we pilot something, from round one, it has to explicitly meets demands of a specific problem we’re trying to solve.”
Vegas has a long history of frontier-style, trial-and-error city planning, Stream said. It’s connected to the boom-and-bust cycles that have defined the city’s economics: Think of all the casinos built only to be blown up a decade or so later, or all the marketing strategies the Strip has adopted and discarded—Vegas for families, Vegas for sports fans,Vegas for urbanists. The city government tinkers around the edges, too: An experimental, open-air courtyard for the homeless that launched last year is one example. “The city’s willingness to small-scale innovate, test, and learn sets it apart,” Stream said. “A lot can be learned from little failures.” But he acknowledged that there's a downside to this iterative approach to city making: a lack of big-picture thinking can mean big-picture problems go unaddressed.