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Regenerative Design: A Case Study in Las Vegas, Nevada

The award-winning Springs Preserve in Las Vegas, Nevada proves the result when design focus shifts from preserving to partnering with the people who live there.

Case Study Overview: The Springs Preserve is a unique natural area located in the historic heart of Las Vegas, Nevada.

The project was initially conceived as a conventional demonstration site for desert gardening. A turning point came under the leadership of Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), when she realized they needed to shift their thinking from building a project IN the desert to building a project OF the desert. With this shift in attitude and perspective the design team led by Ray Lucchesi created a site serving Las Vegas as a regenerative force. Ray is now a Principal at Regenesis Group and a key advisor to Regenesis Reno.

Among the land holdings of Mulroy’s agency was a jewel hidden in plain sight—180 acres in the heart of the city. The site housed a well field, storage tanks, and a water treatment plant, surrounded by industrial neighborhoods. For generations it served as an informal open space -- an unsupervised refuge for teenagers and young lovers. In the 1980s local preservationists quietly worked with the SNWA to secure its historic status. Yet the public was not engaged until the mid-1990s. The question was what to do with it.

The site contains a complex of artesian springs—a true oasis in the desert. Archaeological evidence documents Anasazi presence in the area, followed by Southern Paiute for whom the springs were a major water source. The Spanish encountered the lush grasslands of this oasis and gave the area its name, Las Vegas, which means the meadows.

Recognizing Las Vegas’ water use was shortsighted, Mulroy knew the project had to inspire a shift toward a culture of sustainability. She encouraged the project team to engage in a planning process focused on community development not site development. Mulroy required growth of new capability within the SNWA. A much larger than usual circle of stakeholders needed to be assembled.

The team very quickly uncovered a profound conflict. Some wanted to preserve the site and its wealth of archeological and biological resources. Others wanted to open it to visitors to provide interpretation of these resources.

In the end, the conflict was resolved by highlighting the historical and cultural significance of the site to the region as a whole. All parties agreed the best way to preserve precious resources was to influence the way people live in a place.

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