Yes, I really am from Las Vegas. No, my mother is not a stripper

Viva Las Vegas. Image: Getty.

And No. My mother is not a stripper. Nor is or ever was a showgirl. I have never lived in a casino.

Growing up, I was forced to make these statements …  all the damned time.

A few years ago, it happened again: “You mean people are actually from Las Vegas?”

Yes. And I am one of them.

From is a tricky bugger. Like all prepositions in all languages that rely on such things, it only seems like the most inconsequential part of a statement. From indicates the point at which something begins – a journey, an action, an everyday movement from one spot supposedly and eventually to another.

In other words, from denotes what has been left behind. Or at least it should. The problem is that endpoints make more sense in light of beginnings. 

Personally, I think beginnings are overrated. Who cares if I came from, let’s say, Los Angeles, if I am now in, let’s say, Baker, California. I’m in Baker, now (home to the world’s tallest thermometer!). But when you say I am from Los Angeles in order to indicate a starting point in a lifetime – a temporal as much as spatial starting point – that from acquires enough significance to be poignant and accommodating and frustrating and misleading. If you identify with your hometown, if you love the way its cultures communicate through your gestures and clothes and habits, wonderful. Lucky you. If not, good luck.

I love Los Angeles, by the way. Many people do not. I met a few of those people one weekend when I traveled from L.A. to Reno.

 “Hi. I’m James.”

 “Hi. I’m Ted.”

“Where are you from Ted?”

“I’m from Reno. You?”

“I’m from L.A.”

“I don’t like Los Angeles.”

Great. Did I give you the impression that I cared?

The father of my sister’s college roommate did something like that to my father. The exchange went like this:

“Hi. I’m Nick.”

 “Hi. I’m Ted.” (It’s always a Ted.) “Where are you from Nick?”

“We’re from Las Vegas.”

“I am opposed to gambling. I don’t like Las Vegas. ”

Great. Thanks for letting us know. I am also not big on gambling, but casinos did give my father the chance to raise himself up out of poverty. (By the way, my father is technically not from Las Vegas, if that even matters.)

When people insult your city, it feels like they are insulting you, doesn’t it? Even though the relative beauty and interest of a place need not necessarily reflect onto the beauty and interest of its residents. One’s relationship to their hometown is as arbitrary as is the year of their birth. Imagine this scenario instead: 

“Hi. I’m James.”

“Hi James, I’m Ted. What year were you born James?”

“1980.”

“Ugh. I’m trying to forget that year. I don’t like 1980.”

No one has ever said this to me of course, but if they did it would not bother me in the least. When someone insults my hometown, though, that’s different. Because the same rules that apply to in-group humor apply here as well. If you’re not African American you do not get to use the N-word in a joke; if you’re not from Las Vegas, or have ever even lived there, you don’t have the right to talk shit about it.

Though to be honest, people don’t talk shit about my hometown as much as say stupid shit about it (“Sure it’s a 100 degrees outside, but it’s a dry heat”). Which is fine. We all do this kind of thing. I used to detest New York. Why? Had something horrible happened to me there? No. I never even stepped foot in Manhattan until I was in my twenties. But I did regularly watch the Late Show with David Letterman, which was filmed, as the opening credits say, in New York, “the greatest city in the world”. Seriously? Fuck you. Think you’re so much better than everyone.


I later moved to Queens and ended up staying in New York for nine years; I love New York.

But I will never be from New York, even if later I told people that I was. This was after I had moved abroad. It’s so much easier to tell people outside of America that you’re from New York than Las Vegas. They smile; they don’t ask questions; many foreigners automatically assume a traveling American must be from New York. Keep in mind that, after I moved to New York, I told people I was from Los Angeles.

Why did I pronounce such despicable lies? Was it because, at the time, it seemed more truthful to pinpoint a more recent starting point?

That was when I was in my twenties, and like most people in their twenties, I was an idiot – unsure but ambitious, all-the-while assuming that it matters to other people which clichés they associate with my un-clichéd individual identity.

I no longer live in either Los Angeles or New York, and I haven’t been back to Las Vegas in years. But now, whenever anybody asks, I am always from Las Vegas.

From really is a tricky bugger. No one should have to take it lying down when someone violates their identity by slipping some irrelevant metropolitan clichés into it. That’s what we do though, when we tell people we’re from somewhere. We give them a free pass to do what they were going to do anyway – take someone’s from and project it into the present so they can use the easy stereotypes of a place in order to place you within a category you were arbitrarily assigned to and which you may have spent your whole adult life attempting to flee.

Which is to say, what was to you only a from, to other people becomes an in. What you may have only considered a starting point you long left behind, others often take to be a space you forever reside in, no matter where you have ended up.

And, really, that’s just fine. As I have gleaned from age, in is much less tricky than from. We influence things much more from the inside than from otherwise. 

 
 
 
 

Segregated playgrounds are just the start: inequality is built into the fabric of our cities

Yet more luxury flats. Image: Getty.

Developers in London have come under scrutiny for segregating people who live in social or affordable housing from residents who pay market rates. Prominent cases have included children from social housing being blocked from using a playground in a new development, and “poor doors” providing separate entrances for social housing residents.

Of course, segregation has long been a reality in cities around the world. For example, gated communities have been documented in the US cities since the 1970s, while racially segregated urban areas existed in South Africa under apartheid. Research by myself and other academics has shown that urban spaces which divide and exclude society’s poorer or more vulnerable citizens are still expanding rapidly, even replacing public provision of facilities and services – such as parks and playgrounds – in cities around the world.

Gated developments in Gurgaon, India, have created a patchwork of privatised services; elite developments in Hanoi, Vietnam, offer rich residents cleaner air; and luxury condos in Toronto, Canada, displace local residents in favour of foreign investors. An extreme example is the Eko Atlantic project in Nigeria – a private city being built in Lagos, where the majority of other residents face extreme levels of deprivation and poverty.

A commodity, or a right?

Although these developments come with their own unique context and characteristics, they all have one thing in common: they effectively segregate city dwellers. By providing the sorts of facilities and services which would normally be run by public authorities, but reserving them exclusively for certain residents, such developments threaten the wider public’s access to green spaces, decent housing, playgrounds and even safe sewage systems.

Access to basic services, which was once considered to be the right of all citizens, is at risk of becoming a commodity. Privatisation may start with minor services such as the landscaping or upkeep of neighbourhoods: for example, the maintenance of some new-build estates in the UK are being left to developers in return for a service charge. This might seem insignificant, but it introduces an unregulated cost for the residents.

Privatising the provision of municipal services may be seen by some as a way for wealthier residents to enjoy a better standard of living – as in Hanoi. But in the worst cases, it puts in a paywall in front of fundamental services such as sewage disposal – as happened in Gurgaon. In other words, privatisation may start with insignificant services and expand to more fundamental ones, creating greater segregation and inequality in cities.


A divided city

My own research on branded housing projects in Turkey has highlighted the drastic consequences of the gradual expansion of exclusive services and facilities through segregated developments. These private housing developments – known for their extensive use of branding – have sprung up in Istanbul and other Turkish cities over the past two decades, since the government began to favour a more neoliberal approach.

By 2014, there were more than 800 branded housing projects in Istanbul alone. They vary in scale from a single high-rise building to developments aiming to accommodate more than 20,000 residents. Today, this development type can be seen in every city in Turkey, from small towns to the largest metropolitan areas.

The branded housing projects are segregated by design, often featuring a single tower or an enclosing cluster of buildings, as well as walls and fences. They provide an extensive array of services and facilities exclusively for their residents, including parks, playgrounds, sports pitches, health clinics and landscaping.

Making the same services and facilities available within each project effectively prevents interaction between residents and people living outside of their development. What’s more, these projects often exist in neighbourhoods which lack publicly accessible open spaces such as parks and playgrounds.

This is a city-wide problem in Istanbul since the amount of publicly accessible green spaces in Istanbul is as low as 2.2 per cent of the total urban area. In London, 33 per cent of the city’s area is made up of parks and gardens open to the public – which shows the severity of the problem in Istanbul.

These branded housing projects do not feature any affordable units or social housing, so there are no opportunities for less privileged city-dwellers to enjoy vital facilities such as green spaces. This has knock-on effects on excluded residents’ mental and physical health, contributing to greater inequality in these respects, too.

Emerging alternatives

To prevent increasing inequality, exclusion and segregation in cities, fundamental urban services must be maintained or improved and kept in public ownership and made accessible for every city-dweller. There are emerging alternatives that show ways to do this and challenge privatisation policies.

For example, in some cities, local governments have “remunicipalised” key services, bringing them back into public ownership. A report by Dutch think-tank the Transnational Institute identified 235 cases where water supplies were remunicipalised across 37 countries between 2000 and 2015. The water remunicipalisation tracker keeps track of successful examples of remunicipalisation cases around the world, as well as ongoing campaigns.

It is vitally important to keep urban services public and reverse subtle forms or privatisation by focusing on delivering a decent standard of living for all residents. Local authorities need to be committed to this goal – but they must also receive adequate funds from local taxes and central governments. Only then, will quality services be available to all people living in cities.

The Conversation

Bilge Serin, Research Associate, University of Glasgow.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.