Before Tony Hsieh arrived in downtown Las Vegas, it was a struggling outlier of the more universally recognized Strip. With about $350 million of a personal investment from the CEO of Internet retailer Zappos, however, a urban renewal effort called the Downtown Project is helping Las Vegas inch toward his goal of the city becoming “the most community-focused large city in the world.”
Hsieh has invested $200 million in real estate, $50 million in small businesses, $50 million in education and $50 million in tech startups in downtown Vegas. The unheard-of personal investment aside, Hsieh's also brought to the project the same dogged optimism and communal spirit that routinely puts Zappos on the Fortune list of the best companies to work for in the US.
One of the tenets of Hsieh's program is co-learning, the idea that creatives and professionals who all share a work and leisure environment are bound to share ideas and learn from each other.
"Co-learning is what happens when people run into each other in a space," says Victoria Mora, vice president of St. John's College, who are one of the sponsors for Hsieh's planned appearance in Santa Fe next week. "Could be through talks, workshops. It's a philosophy that I believe St. John's has. We do that in an academic way. The downtown project is taking that and seeing how it works in a city."
Hsieh's Sept. 3 lecture is hosted by Creative Santa Fe, the Santa Fe Institute and St. John's College, and topics of conversation include how he built Zappos and his work with the Downtown Project. At his side, Geoffrey West, distinguished professor at the Santa Fe Institute, hopes to explain what he calls "the science of cities."
"[Hsieh] has developed a new way of thinking," says West, who believes that the Downtown Project's focus on community building may aid in understanding growth and sustainability of urbanization in other cities.
Through West's research into urbanization, he has developed the rule of 15 percent, which concludes that doubling a city's population leads to a 15 percent increase in factors such as income and crime. By the same token, a larger city will require 15 percent less infrastructure, such as gas stations and road, due to a more concentrated population.
"It's important to understand that there is a dynamic that transcends a lot of the policy that is being made," says West.
While West's research and Hsieh's Downtown Project are interesting, what are Santa Feans meant to absorb from this lecture?
"I don't think there's a set view on what we ought to get out of this visit," says Mora. "At a time when Santa Fe has a mayor that is really interested in the future of Santa Fe, the idea is not to apply the Downtown Project, but to use the opportunity to think. We're named the best small city in the US, so it's not like people don't want to come here. The lecture is about thinking how we can make Santa Fe even better."
6 pm Wednesday, Sept. 3
$5 students, $20 general admission.
James A Little Theatre
1060 Cerrillos Road, 988-1234
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story said Hsieh was the founder of Zappos. While he was an early investor, Hsieh did not found the company.