Our Valley: Key Issues Facing the Southern Nevada Region

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This Plan is built upon a foundation of community values and desires for the future. Southern Nevadans love our region, and want it to be an even better place for our children in the years to come. This section provides the foundation for the Plan, describing the results of extensive public outreach and explaining how the community shaped the vision, goals and strategies.
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2.1 WHY WE LOVE SOUTHERN NEVADA

Through outreach, residents consistently described a future in which their children could stay in Southern Nevada, obtain the jobs of their choice, and raise their own families here. They want a great public education system with schools that serve as pillars of the community. They want stable, strong neighborhoods; diverse housing options; access to transit; urban and recreational amenities; and opportunities to participate in decision-making. More specifically, the outreach process identified consistent responses to questions about what Southern Nevadans love about our region. These are features that should not change during the Plan period, and that provide a solid base upon which to improve.

Location, Climate and Affordability

Southern Nevadans describe the region as having the best of both worlds – substantial urban amenities and rich entertainment options with significant open space and recreation areas nearby. They value their proximity to the mountains and the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape. Further, with the exception of a few hot summer months, residents appreciate the climate. Compared to other areas with similar amenities, residents see the region as being affordable and safe. Residents appreciate the region’s central location and the ease with which a person can get to and from other parts of the country.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

Southern Nevadans speak favorably of the region’s entrepreneurial spirit and describe the region as a place where a person can come to find new opportunities and to reinvent themselves. Some emphasize that they value people’s willingness to be creative and try new things. There’s a “can-do” attitude and the region has many opportunities for anyone motivated to go after them.

Public Input on the Regional Plan
Public outreach provided a foundation for this Plan by identifying the issues, concerns and general priorities for the Southern Nevada community. Outreach activities included stakeholder interviews; large public events and open houses; e-newsletters; a random-sample telephone survey; conducting intercept surveys and map-based exercises at community events; online surveys; a land use and development visual preference survey administered at open houses; a telephone town hall event; multiple focus groups; and an ethnographic research training in partnership with UNLV. The public engagement process sought to: Build relationships: SNS created opportunities for community members to engage with others to improve the region. Create opportunities for inclusive participation: All residents, including typically underrepresented groups, influenced the content of the Plan. Educate residents and inform decision-making: Stakeholders were provided with information needed to make informed contributions to the planning process. Build long-term capacity for civic engagement: Success will require ongoing attention from all stakeholders. SNS will ensure that those engaged through this process stay involved to build social capital and leadership.

Sense of Renewal and Re-Creation

The region is always changing and “a work in progress.” Las Vegas is considered a relatively young city and is still forming. Leaders and elected officials are reachable and accessible. The area continues to reinvent itself and has improved steadily over time. Some describe the region as a place where new residents are not treated like outsiders; they can quickly get involved and move into a leadership position. Given the region’s rapid growth and ethnic diversification, the region has left room for new groups to join the community and feel at home. This is different from many other parts of the country, where long-term residency in the community is often critical.

Culture and Entertainment

Southern Nevada has rich cultural and entertainment resources. Residents and visitors can enjoy high-quality, diverse entertainment 365 days of the year. Entertainment ranges from local talent and family-friendly activities to national headliners. The region also has significant cultural resources, including networks of civic associations, places of worship, events, ethnic enclaves, and more dispersed clusters of small, often minority-owned businesses.

Community Spirit/Diversity

Southern Nevadans express enthusiasm and community pride. People value their neighborhoods and are proud to live here. The region’s residents are increasingly diverse, so these cultures and traditions add greatly to the community. In 2012, about 31 percent of Clark County’s total population was foreign-born, which is higher than other cities in the Intermountain West, such as Phoenix (23 percent), Denver (18 percent), and Salt Lake City (18 percent). Between 2000 and 2012, the share of foreign-born residents in Clark County more than doubled, from 13 percent of the total population in 2000 to 31 percent of the county population in 2012. No other region in the Intermountain West had such large growth in the share of foreign-born residents.

Big City/Small-Town Feel

While Southern Nevadans recognize and appreciate the positive aspects of living in a larger region, they also value the small-town quality of the cities in which they live. They describe a strong presence of families and the quantity and variety of family-friendly activities available in the area.
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2.2 WHAT WE NEED TO OVERCOME

At the same time, Southern Nevadans consistently recognize the need to improve some aspects of the way that the region functions. The Southern Nevada community has weathered extremes. A decades-long economic boom brought rapid rates of population growth that were among the fastest in the nation, and a deep recession brought the country’s highest rates of foreclosure and unemployment. During this volatility, the impacts of uncoordinated growth became evident around the region: limited choices for housing and transportation, unhealthy neighborhoods, fewer living-wage jobs, and widespread impacts from the sharp decline of the residential construction market and gaming industry.

More specifically, outreach participants consistently identified the following set of concerns about the region.

Low Quality Education

Many Southern Nevadans express concern regarding the low quality of education at all levels in the region. These opinions ran on a spectrum from “atrocious” to “we need to do a better job.” Nevada continues to retain its ranking of 48th out of 50 states in educational performance, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.4

The outreach process found that some Southern Nevadans connect poor quality education with reduced economic growth. Some note a lack of coordination with the Community College to develop curriculum and offer workforce development activities. Others indicate that the region lacks a major research institution, which can drive innovation and entrepreneurship. In general, Southern Nevadans recognized underinvestment in human capital.

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Lack of Economic Diversity

Southern Nevadans recognize that the region’s heavy reliance on the tourism and gaming industry makes the region vulnerable to economic changes. They value the strength of the industry and its international reputation, but are concerned by the area’s dependence on this one sector of the economy.

Limited Ability to Address Social Problems and Provide Health Care

Some participants note that the region’s low tax rate limits the resources available to meet social needs. The need for social programs and services continues to grow, while funding remains limited. It can be hard to think valley-wide due to the localized nature of some social issues.

Inadequate Transportation Options and Infrastructure

Southern Nevadans express a variety of transportation-related concerns. These include: concerns about pedestrian safety, high level of traffic congestion, and an increased need for public transit and more transportation options to all areas of Southern Nevada. Some areas are well-served, including communities where bus rapid transit (BRT) service exists. Other transportation features, such as park-and-ride stations and High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, have been successful and could be expanded.
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Limited Availability of Affordable Housing

Some Southern Nevadans express concerns about the limited availability of affordable housing. While there appear to be ample structures, and housing prices dropped substantially during the economic crisis, there still are not enough affordable choices available for low- and middle-income families, people with disabilities and seniors. These populations often live in housing that requires them to pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs per month.


Uncoordinated Growth and Disconnected Land Uses

Southern Nevadans agree that the region needs to attract quality development, that is development the community wants, which includes aesthetically interesting developments integrated with surrounding uses in terms of connectivity, economic synergy, design for pedestrians, located along transportation corridors and with a mix of uses that meets the needs of residents, and not just growth for the sake of growth. Development patterns have made neighborhoods increasingly less connected and new approaches will be needed.

Limited Supply of Water

Some residents express concern about the region’s ability to meet water demands over the long term. Businesses may be unwilling to move to an area where water may be a limiting factor.

Insufficient Government Collaboration

Some Southern Nevadans desire improved collaboration between the various agencies and organizations in the region. Along with increased cooperation between cities and the County, some stakeholders want to see improved working relationships with organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce.

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Figure 3, the Social Indicator Map, reflects the current condition of communities within the region by measuring four separate indicators including income, health status, and education within a given census tract. This approach was developed by the SNS Healthy Communities Task Group and is based on San Diego’s Regional Planning Agency (SANDAG)’s “Healthy Communities Atlas” methodology.
Chapter Three Pt. 1