24 Las Vegas

PopulationMetro: 2,130,000
Las Vegas has been through hell recently. But as so often happens, the scar tissue is making it tougher and closer as a community.

The story of Las Vegas blossoming into a “real city” has usually been told of late with breathless praise for its economic success.

The city smashed visitor records for three years running, setting an all-time record in 2016 with almost 43 million visitors. It was a record-breaking convention visitation year, too, with the cherry on top of Vegas named the World’s Leading Meetings & Conference Destination for 2016 by the World Travel Awards.

But this tourist town also became more liveable. Downtown is now a destination, for locals and increasingly cred-seeking visitors. Public spaces host art activations that would make Brooklyn proud.

Repurposed brick buildings serve as austere, unsigned restaurants, a bet by Chef Natalie Young that has paid off for dozens of other entrepreneurs and restaurateurs since 2015.

There are many fantastic vegan restaurants.

CITY PERFORMACE
Place
Place 54
Product
Product 47
Programming
Programming 28
People
People 47
Prosperity
Prosperity 33
Promotion
Promotion 29

Sin City’s blossoming sense of place has moved the city into #33 for our deep Place category, with the fifth-best weather on the planet and an impressive #26 globally for its Outdoors & Parks. For a city in a desert, that’s no small feat.

But in the past year, there have been big-city— and big humanity—problems as well. The October 1, 2017 massacre of 58 people (with another 851 injured) in the mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip darkened the city of neon like nothing before it.

For the first time in as long as anyone could remember, tourism dropped last year—only briefly and only by 725,000 visitors (not even 2%), but it was still a drop—at a time when the global economy had never been hotter. Even supposed sure things like a new Asian-themed hotel-casino called The Lucky Dragon, which was reverse-engineered to plug right into the dizzying spending power of the ballooning Chinese international traveler and wealthy recent immigrants, flamed out and shut down earlier this year. This despite non-stop China flights introduced last year.

Then came the sexual assault allegations against city father Steve Wynn—wrecking balls to both Wynn Resorts share prices and local pride in one of the city’s own.

Las Vegas Arts District Neonbrand

But the city is doubling down on massive city building and being buoyed by its place as a fascinating hometown.

In the next few years, it will improve on its already impressive #16 global ranking in our Product category—its currently ranked #9 Conventions Center space will have an extra million square feet of functional space in 2020, likely surpassing Orlando and Chicago in the process for tops in the U.S. Sin City is also bulking up into a sports town with the the unprecedented success of the second-year NHL Golden Knights, as well as the arrival of the NFL’s Raiders in 2020. The new T-Mobile “hockey” arena is already attracting the high-quality entertainment and concerts that usually avoided the area in the past. The Raiders’ $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat stadium is going up walking distance from the Strip.

Seven Magic Mountains Sculpture Oneisha Lee

The city’s domination in the attractions category (ranked #6 globally) seems safe, given the investment in music festivals—that’s right, shooting be damned!—and six major hotel-and-entertainment projects totalling $10 billion and reshaping the skyline like never before.

That’s a lot of jobs in a city where a middle-class family can still find plenty of affordable housing. Vegas, it seems, is a place for residents to build wealth over the long term. Of course, hitting the jackpot is also an option.