MACAU (1999-2009) / URBAN PLANNING OF COTAI: 5. THE DISCREPANCIES BETWEEN THE URBAN LANDSCAPE OF LAS VEGAS AND COTAI
The Las Vegas urban approach of the main boulevard, when implemented in Cotai, has resulted in a different outcome. The top-down planning in Cotai was ineffective due to different reasons.
In order to understand the discrepancies, it is critical to acknowledge the different culture of cars between the two cities. In Las Vegas, parking lots are abundant because people used to travel mostly by car. (A few decades ago, the strip was to be enjoyed from inside a moving vehicle.) The boulevard in Las Vegas is the main artery in the city. To prevent accidents from occurring, the government has installed many physical barriers to prevent pedestrians from accidentally walking onto the streets. Hence, in return, pedestrian footbridges and escalators were provided at many intersections along the strip.
Macau, on the other hand is a rather small city. Due to its compact scale, casinos are usually willing to provide free shuttle bus services from the piers to the casinos. However, the overwhelming number of casino shuttle buses, especially due to the new casino developments in the Cotai Strip, has increased the burden of the system of public and private buses in Macau, aggravating the problem of frequent traffic jams and pollution. The saturation of the transportation system on the road has affected pedestrian experience in Cotai.
Though the Las Vegas Strip has been used as reference, the streetscape of Cotai has been ignored in the urban planning. The sidewalks in Las Vegas have been designed to provide a comfortable pedestrian experience. Landscaped pedestrian areas and covered streets facilitate pedestrian activity along the Strip. The streets are decorated with greeneries and beautiful lights. Spontaneous performances and social activity fill the streets. This is a totally different story for Cotai. Casino mega plots have changed the walkability of Cotai. Previously, under the Portuguese rule, Macau had inherited the establishment of streets in relation to human scale from medieval planning. During the 20th century, on the other hand, the street systems have been invaded by cars and the city has adopted a road system in relation to the automobile-dominated community, like that of the old Las Vegas. However, the important factors of comfort and practicality have not been imported to Macau from the Las Vegas model. Streetscapes are unpleasant and pedestrian unfriendly. People have to walk a long way to cross the streets, and the streets’ function as a public space for social connections has been ignored.
Besides that, in the Cotai Strip, casinos have employed isolation strategies to create a bounded and controlled realm of their own that repel neighboring competitors. As a result, each casino has created its own set of privatized public space, by filling their boundaries with interdictory spaces. This obliterates the interactive relationship conceived by the public boulevard network. Massive urban blocks surrounded by empty public environments, along with long, closed, monotonous facades and minimal road crossings dictate the streetscape. This forms a sharp contrast with the welcoming and vibrant worlds of their interiors. Along the boulevard, the decorative devices, “ducks” and “decorated sheds” theorized by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown in “Learning from Las Vegas”, when applied to Macau, are no longer part of an urban landscape organized by systems of continuous open space (streets, piazzas and parks) where the front represents the individual organization in the public plan. The main skeleton, the boulevard, loses its representational function and expands its role as an infrastructure.
The essence of the Las Vegas Strip is not only its distinct urban form, as a big boulevard, organizing casinos on both its sides, but also in the streetscape design and the view of the representations of casino facades that can be enjoyed as the person walks along the streets. Hence, the Cotai Strip is merely a physical imitation of the Las Vegas Strip, without inheriting its core purposes.
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.