George Will

So says Hal Rothman, chairman of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas history department and author of ``Neon Metropolis: How Las Vegas Started the Twenty-First Century.'' He arrived here from Wichita State University 12 years ago. He is not in Kansas anymore. Or in the Las Vegas he came to. The population has doubled since he arrived.

He says the city represents the service economy, and the demographics, of the future. A sobering thought, that.

The population, which is growing by more than 6,000 a month, is one-quarter Latino. Another quarter is retired -- and another fifth is between 55 and 64. The city's growth involves a lot of scratching of the desert's surface -- for new roads, housing foundations, malls, etc. That, and awful traffic congestion, produces a lot of dust, which means respiratory problems among the elderly, increasing the costs of their long-term care.

Many of the elderly oppose increases in the city's budget because they believe they have already paid for public services. But they paid elsewhere, before moving here. So who will vote the money for the 17 new schools needed every year, partly for the numerous children of immigrants? Getting the teachers, says Rothman, is less difficult: the city can recruit in Buffalo in winter.

But enough about water and schools and other mundane matters that mayors must worry about. If modernity involves the emancipation of appetites from inhibitions, then Las Vegas really may be, as Rothman says, ``the first city of the 21st century, the place where desire meets capital, where instinct replaces restraint.''

In ``Breakfast at Tiffany's,'' Holly Golightly is described as ``a phony -- but a real phony.'' This city, too, has the authenticity of the altogether synthetic.

George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
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