MACAU (1999-2009) / URBAN PLANNING OF COTAI: 4. THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE LAS VEGAS STRIP
During Stanley Ho’s monopoly, Macau has long been considered a city with a complicated yet consistent urban form, full of a rich mix of Chinese and Portuguese cultures. The streets were narrow and the small plots of land adapted to the topography of the hilly terrain. Even though there were casinos, the buildings were scattered throughout the commercial and tourist areas of the urban space, small in size, limited in number, and fit in the urban environment.
Since the entry of large foreign casinos, the image of Macau as a gambling city in China has significantly changed – It is now called the “Las Vegas of the East”. This originated from the vision of Sheldon Adelson, chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands, who came up with an idea that corresponded with the Macau government. The vision was to create the Las Vegas Strip in Cotai. Coincidentally, the original development plan of Cotai contained a boulevard that could be used exactly to mimic the Las Vegas Strip.
With the government’s decision to prioritize focus on the gambling component of the leisure and entertainment sector, the expansion of the economy has exerted strong effects on the physical transformations of the city geography, urban structure and infrastructures. The small plots of residential buildings in the original development plans, which honored the Portuguese urban planning, were superseded by large plots of land for the casino resort facilities, as required by the imported Las Vegas model. Urban planning occurred in a totally different manner, introducing parcelization and autonomy. The casinos became larger and more introverted than they were before in order to fill the urban framework provided by the boulevard structure and the new gridded Cotai plan. In the urban environment, though each casino is placed in a parceled land next to each other, they are characterized by a strong segmentation in an un-unified whole.
The Cotai Strip is now a magnificent replica of the Las Vegas Strip, with the mainstream European or Middle-Eastern themed hotels and attractive performances. They take on the same approach to attract visitors by collaging a great variety of famous iconic architectures of the world together in one place. The spontaneous outcome of such a huge concentration of entertainment venues that represent very distinct cultures provides the almost unmatched opportunity to experience a multiplicity of venues within a short reach and without having to make multiple trips to distant places around the globe (Balsas / 2013).
This is sustained by the hyperrealism created by the architectures of the casinos, in a managed environment. Take the Venetian Hotel as an example. Once inside, one is no longer able to distinguish whether it’s day or night due to the artificial blue sky, which simulates eternal daytime, most of the day. The line between reality and fantasy is blurred and it is ‘‘no longer possible to recognize the boundary between the screen and the street, between cinematic fantasy and the creation of the urban. Representations of cities are becoming cities” (Dear, 2000). Consumer and gambling behaviors are induced as a result of the recreation of pseudo-authentic sights. Though some people claim that, to some extent, these effects are also created in non-gambling cities, it is evident that they are taken to an extreme in Cotai.
Although the Las Vegas style of planning has been successful in boosting revenues and driving the economy in Macau, this new model directly imported from Las Vegas, under the belief that it is a more efficient formula for success both physically and operationally, has utterly changed the city image of Macau. The prosperity of the Cotai Strip has outshone the Macau peninsula, where most of the cultural sites, Portuguese heritage, and first generation casinos of Macau are located. It has become a new city-center outside of the peninsula. However, the core values of Macau, its colonial history of Portuguese culture and Chinese roots have hence, been overlooked.
Balsas, C.J., 2013. Gaming anyone? A comparative study of recent urban development trends in Las Vegas and Macau. Cities, 31, pp.298-307.
Dear, M.J., 2000. The postmodern urban condition.
Gu*, Z., 2004. Macau gaming: Copying the Las Vegas style or creating a Macau model?. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, 9(1), pp.89-96.
Manfredini, Manfredo. and Yuen, Gloria. and Wu, Steven, 2013. Public Space and Consumption “Spatial Assemblages”: Exploring Macau’s Place of Spectacular Otherness. Proc. of International Conference on Planning and Design, Tainan, Taiwan.
Tieben, H., 2009. Urban image construction in Macau in the first decade after the “handover”, 1999-2008. Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, 38(1), pp.49-72.