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The Future of Las Vegas’ Metropolitan Revolution

UNLV is ideally placed to assist — and provide — leaders to deal with the challenges of the major urban center that is Las Vegas.

Campus News  |  Oct 17, 2017  |  By UNLV News Center
landscape view

A view of Las Vegas from Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. (Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau)

Editor's Note: 

This essay is part of our UNLV's 60th anniversary series exploring the future of UNLV and our impact in the world. Here, William Brown, Jr., the UNLV director of Brookings Mountain West, discusses the role UNLV will play in helping our region meet the demands and embrace the opportunities that predicted growth will bring our way.


Our federal and state governments are increasingly unable to meet the rapidly changing political, economic, and social needs of major urban centers. So city leaders must step in and partner with research universities to build our communities, diversify and strengthen our economies, and produce creative, innovative solutions to the challenges facing 21st century America.

UNLV and Southern Nevada stand in the forefront of the “Metropolitan Revolution,” wherein the leaders of our nation’s largest cities recognize that the development of prosperous, sustainable communities relies upon local leadership and expertise. UNLV and Brookings Mountain West recognized this early in 2011, when they collaborated with state officials to host “Nevada 2.0: New Economies for a Sustainable Future,” an event led to the reorganization of economic development in Nevada.

In the past decade, UNLV’s public policy experts — including those at Brookings Mountain West and The Lincy Institute — have played a key role in ensuring the university is producing a multi-dimensional workforce needed in expanding Las Vegas as a global destination for hospitality and convenings, in launching the UNLV Medical School to enhance and expand health care and biomedical research in our region, and in leading the effort to secure approvals for the construction of Interstate 11 between Las Vegas and Phoenix.

The impact on local and state government will be enormous.

By 2035, the UNLV Center for Business and Economic Research predicts that Clark County’s population will reach approximately 2.72 million and by 2050 it will reach nearly 2.83 million, and our reach will extend into Southern Utah (Washington County) and Northern Arizona (Mojave County) as these communities are folded into the larger our metropolitan statistical area (MSA), a term used by the U.S. Census to define regions that exchange a sufficient number of commuters for employment and economic purposes. In fact, according to U.S. Census data, the Las Vegas of today represents the projected national average for the racial and age mix of our nation’s population in 2060.

As this demographic trend unfolds, the future for UNLV and Southern Nevada is bright.

We expect UNLV to build upon its work to become a nationally recognized center for the teaching and research in urban affairs, producing generations of Nevadans attuned to its issues and trained to implement effective public policy.

These leaders will bring about the completion of the I-11 corridor between Las Vegas and Phoenix, a vital transportation link to support economic and population growth. They will usher in further solutions to local transportation needs — such as a light rail/monorail hybrid system connecting McCarran Airport, the Las Vegas Strip, downtown Las Vegas, and surrounding communities — and provide an efficient, sustainable method for moving the growing population and more than 50 million visitors throughout the valley. 

Whether visiting resorts, an NFL stadium, or the resurgent downtown (including the medical district where UNLV’s School of Medicine is located), or checking out the main campus and its revitalized Maryland Parkway cultural corridor, locals and visitors will have unfettered access to Southern Nevada’s many destinations.

UNLV’s growth will mirror that of metropolitan Las Vegas. Its expansion beyond Maryland Parkway and further into the community will offer a model for modern research universities. The build-out of the 42 acres on Tropicana Avenue that UNLV acquired in 2016 will further link the campus to the Las Vegas Strip and allow it to serve in excess of 50,000 students by 2040. The UNLV School of Medicine will anchor a robust medical district in downtown Las Vegas, ushering in a climate for advanced health care and research for the entire region. Spurred by UNLV, the influx of federal science and health research funding, including grants and clinical trials as well as additional private philanthropy, will redefine health care standards in our state. And UNLV’s 2,000 acres in North Las Vegas will become home to a state-of-the-art urban sustainability project.

The myriad public policy issues critical to the region will demand educated and informed citizens, government officials, and elected representatives. UNLV will provide them. Its graduates will address the issues of an increasing global economy, rapidly challenging climate change, and ever-present water and environmental concerns, while providing adequate and expert health care to an expanding population.

Through its network of community service organizations, UNLV will help Southern Nevada secure its fair share of federal and state resources, and enhance this foundation with the philanthropic resources of our generous community.

With innovative thinking that comes from embracing a highly diverse campus population, UNLV will offer its best teaching and research on the critical matters of public policy that effect all Nevadans.

In the coming decades, UNLV and Southern Nevada will demonstrate the power of the Metropolitan Revolution to a global audience, rapidly propelling UNLV forward on its path to becoming one the nation’s 100 highest output graduate academic institutions.

And longtime residents will reap the rewards of a community thriving.


William Brown served as an academic research librarian, faculty member, and administrator at Yale University, the University of Miami, and the University of California, Berkeley, before joining UNLV in 2005. He now coordinates the programs, lectures, and activities of Brookings Mountain West in Southern Nevada, including the Brookings public policy minor at UNLV. He has published a diverse array of scholarly works in American history, literature, politics, and related fields.