25 Years of Growth

Here are some sobering satellite photos of Las Vegas, in five year intervals from 1984 to a few months ago, taken by NASA's Landsat 5. For orientation, the strip runs north-south and with a NNE kink just right of center, with the airport parallel to this at bottom. Interstate 215 can be found in the bottom left corner, taking shape in 1999.

Click the animation for larger images.

[25 years in six seconds | images from here]
"These images of the western portion of the Las Vegas metropolitan area show the city’s steady spread into the adjacent desert landscape. Undeveloped land appears along the left edges of the top two images. Here, the land on the city’s outskirts appears in shades of beige and tan, with just a hint of the street grid to come. By 1989, however, development filled the upper left corner—a residential area, complete with curving roads and semicircle streets. In subsequent images, development spreads southward, and by 2004, the entire image shows cityscape, including Interstate 215 passing through southwestern portion of the city."
(via Coudal)


  1. A couple months ago Jonathan Crowe, who writes the blog called "The Map Room," posted a similar entry about the growth in Las Vegas. He created a nice YouTube video that shows the growth a different scale using nearly the same imagery. What I found to be most interesting was the depletion of Lake Mead in the same period as the growth.

  2. It's an interesting sequence, and it would be even more stunning if we had the images from the very begginings of the strip added.
    But we wonder if this growth matches the financial situation of Las Vegas, or if it is another sign of its decadence.

  3. I've never before seen Las Vegas described as "sobering." :-)

    Our obsession with Vegas fools us into believing that their vices our not our own. That 25 years of damage to Lake Mead exceeds the abuse of Lake Michigan or the Hudson. That destruction of desert is worse than loss of farmland. To misquote a very effective politician, "all damage is local" We need to identify and address our problems with hands-on familiarity, and solve them. Not bemoan them from a distance. Even though it can be so much fun. But thanks, still, DDA, for the good images, great link and the thought provoking post. Always a good job.

  4. Good comments. Thanks.

    Nikolas - If I would have seen the larger images I probably would have made my gif more than the snippet I posted. But I didn't see it until after I made it. Nevertheless, this view allows more detail to be seen.

    SM - These date back to the beginning of the satellite, so it's impossible to get earlier views. But I'm guessing the growth is partially Vegas's situation and partly the tendency for sprawl around most American cities. I don't know enough about the area to know if the westward movement is rich people or those working in the casinos.

    CHICAGO... - I agree with what you're saying, but the same argument can be made for the interdependence of contexts, ecologically and politically, as the Chicago Reader article a few years back showed. Vegas's depletion of available water affects more than Vegas, something that probably doesn't need restating. If every locality focused on its own problems, as you say, then things would probably improve, but many problems arise from localities focusing on their own needs, to the detriment of other areas with less money and clout. I think general conditions need to be set (aquifers aren't drained faster than they're refilled, watersheds are respected, etc.) that are then adapted to local circumstances. Maybe a version of that is going on now, but development and lifestyle doesn't appear to illustrate that it does.

  5. I've been to Las Vegas many times and what always strikes me when I'm there is the drastically different feeling of the city and architecture between day and night. Being there in the day is depressing with the gaudy looking architecture, the golf courses, resorts, and water parks that utilize mind boggling amounts of water, etc. The city feels wasteful, monstrous, and completely disrespectful of our worlds resources. At night, I never get that feeling, the city comes to life in an invigorating and inspiring way. Every time I've been there, I'm truly amazed at how different the city scape is during the day compared to the night.


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