The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

There is Something About Nevada


5369 In Nevada, the roads are wide open, except when they are not. Image of ordnance disposal area, Hawthorne, Nevada. CLUI photo

TO THINK THAT A CITY stops at the edge of its statistical metropolitan area, or its flood control ramparts, disregards the fact that most of what makes and sustains a city actually comes from somewhere else. The whole nation is, in a sense, a continuous urban space. Sometimes there is density, sometimes not, but it is all connected and inter-dependent.
That said, it is interesting to note that Nevada, by some ways of measuring, is the most urban state in the Union. Close to 95% of the 3 million people who live in the state live in either the Reno or Las Vegas metro areas—two cities that take up only 2% of the land in the state. Nevada is the state with the most amount of its people living on the least amount of land, making it the most urban state and most rural state at the same time. 
This is one of the many paradoxes of the place. On one hand it is the most open state in the Union: 85% public land, owned and operated for us all by the Bureau of Land Management. Those fences running along the highways are there just to keep the cows off the road. Go ahead and open the gate, head on out into the landscape, and feel the freedom of your shared American land (just close the gate behind you, pardner!). 
On the other hand, the state has the largest and most secretive restricted areas in the nation—go through THAT gate, pardner, and your freedom is likely to diminish considerably. This is the result of the fact that in the old days of the homesteading acts and such, they couldn’t even give away much of Nevada’s arid land  (except to railroads and miners). The Federal Land Office ended up with so much land it had to create a new agency to manage it—the beloved and dreaded BLM.
Just as post-World War II development spread across the nation, making urban space more valuable, emptiness too became a valuable commodity. As Southern California boomed in one way, with endless suburbs fillings its basins, Nevada boomed in the other, more literal direction—with the Nevada Proving Ground, ultimately home to a thousand nuclear tests, and the surrounding Nellis Range, still the largest restricted area in the nation. 
Though the military testing, training, and storage grounds in Nevada serve the nation at large, Nevada’s relative emptiness is now a resource for more regional urban demands. 
Its proximity to the largest population centers of the west (23 million people in Southern California, and 10 million more in the Bay Area and Sacramento), make Nevada’s inexpensive land and permissive development atmosphere irresistible—especially for industries that are being fed by internet economies, whose logistics and space needs are based on massive recalibrated scales that spill over the fulcrum of mountain passes and state lines. ♦