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Build a better downtown: A conversation with Robert Gurdison, co-founder of Build A Greener Block Las Vegas

<p>Robert Gurdison. COURTESY PHOTO.</p>

Robert Gurdison. COURTESY PHOTO.

ROBERT GURDISON has believed in downtown since he was an architecture student at UNLV in the late ’90s. Since his college days, Gurdison has been trying to bring people downtown, nudging them to recognize its viability as a place to “live, work and play.” The Las Vegas native is working on the Zappos renovation of City Hall; is co-organizer of Build A Greener Block, which aims to inspire permanent change through temporary neighborhoods; and was named 2012 young architect of the year by the state chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Here Gurdison talks about his dreams for downtown Las Vegas’ future.

On his work: When I hear others say that Las Vegas has no culture, it concerns me. I went on this culture hunt for about two years to find out, “Do we truly have culture?” What I found is that we really do. We have so many groups that are focused on fashion, food, music, the arts, skateboarding, snowboarding, football, team sports. There are so many types of culture groups that meet on a consistent basis. A big defining factor is that these bubbles never really have a place where everyone can recognize each other, coalesce together. They’re separate. My focus on downtown has been to connect the dots, connect these bubbles.

On what Vegas needs: A civic or cultural realm that everyone knows about and can point to and say, “This is where events happen.” My goal has been to cultivate a civic realm where everyone can come together and have an exchange of ideas or get to know each other. Hopefully it will instill a sense of permanence in our valley.

On Build A Greener Block: I was really attracted to this organization and the idea of getting people to come together and do things instead of waiting for someone else to do it.

It’s a part of town that’s been blighted for 30-plus years, then all of a sudden in two days, there’s places to sit, there’s places to drink coffee, to eat, to shop, community outreach, spoken word, a health-food store, events for children, a dog park. For two days, it just completely transformed. The hope of that whole event was to get people to start thinking downtown could be a great place.

On his upcoming project, Build A Greener Alley: It’ll be like Build A Greener Block, but it will be in an alleyway. We were really intrigued with the idea, “How do you get to the entertainment district where East Fremont Street is, and link it to the arts district?” It’s several blocks and probably a good 8-10 minute bike ride from end to end. As we were riding our bikes, we began to see that the alleyway was one of the safer routes, instead of riding on the sidewalks or riding on the street.

On his ultimate goal for downtown: The ultimate goal is to get people to see the potential of how viable downtown could be to live, work and play. Part of the small steps is just to get people to bike. One, it’s fun. Two, it’s effective because you don’t have to worry about looking for a parking space or worry about the concerns you have when driving downtown. Our hope is that once people start biking downtown, it will inspire others to come down and do the same thing. Biking is kind of the gateway activity to come down and see. You can live here and it’s safe. You can work here. You can walk from your house or your condo to your workplace. Everywhere in between is where you might play.