Abstract: How and why does the material city in the late 20th and early 21st century change? This article examines one type of prominent urban change, which is “fits-and-starts” and represents change that is concentrated in space and time and that nonetheless has longer term repercussions with high economic and environmental costs. Through a review of the literature and an illuminating case study in Las Vegas, this article reveals how human perception and decision-making via two interrelated phenomena, future speculation and manufactured obsolescence, drive such change. The case study in Las Vegas is particularly fascinating because as a city of apparent extremes, it not only reveals in clear relief phenomena that are present in the capitalist city but it also offers insights into basic patterns of decision-making that actually shape—or design—the contemporary city. The article concludes with more general insights into the nature of this type of urban change and implications for alternative types of urban practices.
Keywords: fits-and-starts; Las Vegas; material city; urban change; urban practice