The other night I was in a Twitter discussion with economist and blogger Noah Smith about the implosion of Las Vegas' hopes to create a vibrant "real" downtown (see the links on the City Desk). It's a sad moment, but I remarked that Vegas didn't have good bones. Smith asked a logical question for anyone not among the urbanophiles: What are good bones?
Since I now have more than 140 characters, let me answer more clearly. "Good bones" are a variety of architectural styles, especially pre-World War II — Art Deco, Beaux-Arts, Spanish Colonial Revival, Gothic Revival, Chicago School, Victorian, etc.
Good bones are dense downtowns and human-scaled neighborhood retail districts right up to the sidewalk. Parks designed by the likes of Frederick Law Olmsted or Adolph Strauch. Inspiring public spaces. Narrow streets and real boulevards. Palatial theaters and concert halls. Grand bridges. Infrastructure such as subways and magnificent railway terminals. Stately public buildings. Packed row houses. Downtown retail (especially a hat store). These are all good bones.
Here, Las Vegas is in an even worse position than Phoenix. In 1940, the end of the Art Deco era, its population was 8,422. The only architectural asset it gained was the lovely streamline moderne Union Pacific Railroad station above — demolished for a garish hotel in the 1960s.