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. 

 
 
 
 

Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.


The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

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