Going Back, Moving Forward

This summer we traveled West for a vacation with our granddaughter, visiting family in the town where I grew up. I knew much had changed in the area over the forty-some years since I moved out of state and I was curious to see what still remained and what I could remember of certain places. Our visit took us to Virginia City, Lake Tahoe, Pyramid Lake, and even a day trip over to San Francisco. Indeed much had changed but the overall contours and places had stayed remarkably similar to what I remembered.

In 1970 Reno was a bustling, medium-sized town of 101,000. The growth rate seems to have peeked at 5.1 percent in 1973, perhaps a boom ushered in by Californians fleeing their state. Not at all strange, those fleeing Californians are blamed for many of Reno’s ills (traffic? rising housing costs? You bet!). That rapid growth implied a steady influx of people pursuing jobs and new homes, bringing changes to the quiet urban landscape I remembered. 

Over the intervening years, Reno’s growth rate would slowly drop, peaking once more, at 3.9% in 1993. Since then the rate has steadily fallen. Population stands at 514,000 today, roughly 3 1/2 times what it was when I graduated high school, now with a yearly growth rate just under 2 percent a year. 

Reno Historical Growth from Macrotrends.net retrieved 2021/08/02

For contrast, Loudoun County where I live, has an estimated population of 429,570 with a growth rate of 1.90% in the past year according to the most recent United States census data. Yet we are ranked (and folks complain!) as one of the fastest growing counties in America. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

Loudoun County ranks 20th out of 3,142 US counties in growth according to the website https://siteselection.com/issues/2018/may/loudoun-county-10-ways-loudoun-county-virginia-is-no-1.cfm

My family had moved five times during the years I lived in the Washoe Valley region. This summer’s journey began with a drive past our first home in Sparks where we had moved in 1953. Our home, like so many others at the time, was part of a tract subdivision and we were the first ones to occupy it. All the homes looked alike, street after street of small, one story buildings. My parents built the one-car garage and to this day, few of the remaining homes have a garage. But the passage of time and the region’s droughts have been unkind. The house still stands almost 70 years after it was built but appears old and unpainted, the grassy front yard and many of its neighbors’ having been replaced by dirt patches, weeds, and brush. 

We quickly drove on to visit my first elementary school, the painted  cinderblock walls of which still stand out in my memory. The school appeared much as I had remembered it and I was encouraged to see children playing on the playground equipment. The church I had attended growing up, First United Methodist Church, still stands and looks to have expanded over the past half century. That was encouraging too.

We drove past the elementary school and also the first house we lived in after we moved from Sparks to Reno. Roger Corbett Elementary School is located across the street from my high school and it was great to see how well kept they both appeared. The house where we had lived, not so much. 

Perhaps due to the high cost of land and the scarcity of available property “close in” (short commute), many of the older communities and subdivisions here in Northern Virginia are experiencing a second life. Smaller homes are being remodeled and enlarged, or in some cases replaced all together. The area’s mature landscaping contributes to the livability of older neighborhoods and we quite often find people wanting to move in, rather than out, of these neighborhoods. 

In Reno the opposite seems to have taken place. While the shortage of water has had a great effect on landscaping in general, the introduction of xeriscaping has altered much of what I remembered homes and yards looked like. And all the new, much larger homes have been built farther and farther away from the areas I grew up in leaving the older communities appearing…smaller. It’s as if all the two-story homes are located up in the hills surrounding Reno while the bungalows and craftsman homes, the mid century modern and Spanish-revival homes were left behind in the valley. 

Yet there has been an incredible revival in the closer-in areas just beyond the Downtown core. The new area of Midtown is now a bustling community of galleries, restaurants, vintage shops and breweries and cafes, many decorated “to the nines” in a vibrant landscape of murals. 

Quite a few of the stores and even regional shopping malls that I grew up with have closed or are now being replaced with mixed use development. I was surprised to see so many of the large hotel casinos (not—too big to fail) have closed and many of them still stand empty. But some of them have been repurposed bringing new life to struggling areas. One such where we stopped for lunch, the former Riverside Hotel on the Truckee River, is now a building housing artists’ apartments and studios. The six story brick building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, originally built in 1927. Unfortunately many of the other historic buildings in Reno’s downtown have been destroyed, replaced by larger hotel casinos or apartment buildings. 

Our visit began with a side trip to see my kindergarten school and we ended our tour of education facilities with a walk thru the campus of my alma mater, University of Nevada Reno (1974). It was here that the size and scope of change really made an impact on me. The University was founded as a land grant college in 1874; Morril Hall was the first campus building occupied in 1886 and still stands. There were 8,023 students when I graduated in 1974. More than 21,000 students attend now and the university occupies 180 buildings over 290 acres. New buildings sit where before I remembered were only parking lots. Courtyards, walkways, and new intersections abound, as well as multi-level parking garages. A general plan seeks to better integrate the University with the downtown area of Reno just a few blocks to the south of the main campus entrance. Having outlived it’s reputation as the Divorce Capital of the World, the new emphasis on corporate/educational partnerships should help to redefine Reno as more than just a gambling town!

My hometown has changed physically more than I had expected over the past 40+ years; but much of that change has been good for it. I belong to a Facebook Group called “You lived in Reno in the 60s and 70s if you remember …” and there are always posts from people lamenting how much the City has changed. Nostalgia has a way of softening the edges when viewed through those rose-colored granny glasses, I think. I don’t see as well as I used to, and I would agree that you can’t go back to the way things were (thankfully!) But sometimes its nice to turn a corner and see exactly what you had expected would be there, even if its the 7-11 around the corner from where we lived. The indoor shopping mall where I worked while attending college is gone, but the mini mart around the corner from my Dad’s house is still there. Hopefully we will get back out west for another visit before things change too much!

Go Big

Driving out to the Ashburn Home Depot along Loudoun County Parkway, I was struck recently by the sheer size of all the data centers going in. I did some online searching and was surprised to learn that our area now is home to 70 data centers with more planned for the future. When I lived here during the 1990s the area was still very rural. AOL was expanding their footprint but for the most part, turf farms seemed to be the major development. All that has changed now and there are homes and retail establishments from Ashburn to Brambleton, from Route 28 on up to Belmont Ridge Road. 

With more than 70% of the world’s internet traffic passing through our area, it isn’t a surprise to expect even more development in the coming years. Trying to find a careful balance between residential growth and commercial development has been a difficult challenge. The data centers have brought much needed employment opportunities to our local economy, and added to county revenues.

Data Center Frontier’s Rich Miller reports that the ongoing rush to build more data centers has resulted in the county receiving “fast-track applications” for seven new data center projects that will result in 3 million square feet of new data center space in the region. In addition, last month Data Center Dynamics reported that Amazon is planning construction of a new 1.75 million square foot data center facility in the area as well.

My concern isn’t so much in the number of data centers that we host as it is in the visual effect they have on our community. Our wide roads are beautifully landscaped and well maintained. Yet, the enormous size of the newer developments seems to be softened only with the addition of low berms, landscaping and small trees. Perhaps in 20 years all that landscaping will have grown into effective visual barriers. Right now, not so much.

In an article from the December 26, 2019 Loudountimes.com newspaper, Nathaniel Cline wrote that “In the coming year, Loudoun County’s Department of Economic Development will conduct a branding review of the data center cluster in Loudoun and explore potential branding and signage campaigns as directed by the county’s Board of Supervisors on Dec. 17.”

He also added that “Included in the Board of Supervisors’ direction is for county staff to consider a roadside sign or monument to support the branding efforts. Areas for signage could include major thoroughfares such as Route 28, Route 7, Waxpool Road and Loudoun County Parkway.” 

So my question is more in the range of a suggestion and an example.

My home town of Reno, Nevada has continued a years-long effort to “rebrand” the city from that of a gambling and tourism-only focus to one that has greater appeal  to residents and visitors alike. One of the steps they have taken is to make the city more “art friendly,” specifically public art friendly, by encouraging (and in some cases helping finance) public sculptures and large scale murals. Reno is a city that had one mural when I was growing up there (“Harolds Club or Bust!”) and now boasts more than 100 murals, with tours available! https://travelnevada.com/arts-culture/through-the-lens-midtown-mural-tour/

When I reached out to Reno City Government recently, Megan Berner the Acting Manager of Arts, Culture, and Events, City of Reno emailed me back. She said that much of the growth and interest in public art came after the establishment of a Public Arts Commission in 1990.

Quoting Megan “The mural movement itself in Reno was very organic and mostly driven by individual artists (like Erik Burke) and private business owners–most of our murals are on private property. The murals on private property are privately funded for the most part. The City helped fund the large mural behind the red flower in the image you attached–it is on a public building owned by the County. 

We also have fairly relaxed rules about painting murals on private property. The only real guidelines/rules we have is that murals cannot be signs/advertisements for the business. They need to be art or comply with our signs laws.”

I contacted Loudoun County Supervisor Mike Turner with the question: what can we do to encourage the owners of these big box, concrete buildings to consider enriching their buildings and our community with outdoor art? His gracious response was welcoming.

The concept Reno developed of turning that vast wall space into art is fantastic. It sounds like Buddy Rizer, the Director of Economic Development, is already looking at that as a possible improvement. Clearly that whole section of Ashburn has been aesthetically impacted by these massive buildings, and I should warn you that, as horizontal real estate has begun to reach its practical limit, the data centers are starting to talk about vertical development. They own the land, so there’s not much we can do about that.

Supervisor Turner concluded, “The challenge we face is that Ashburn, VA is now exactly like the oil boom towns of the late 19thcentury, except Ashburn is a global boom town. “Data Center Alley” in Ashburn is literally the iconic center of the data world. They are extraordinarily good community partners supporting many local nonprofits and educational programs, and they represent an enormous slice of county tax revenue. That plays a major role in enabling us to keep property taxes in line. I’m also working with them to move them onto sustainable energy sources for the great amounts of power they use. I promise you we are aware of the issue and are looking at any way to mitigate the visual impact they are having.

We have a challenge in front of us; I don’t expect that suddenly we will see sculptures and murals and other forms of public art appearing around every corner. I do hope, however, that as we continue to build out our environment with massive concrete boxes, we might give more than a nod to how the region is going to look in five or ten years. Will we continue to be Data Center Alley, or can we hope for something along the lines of a High Tech Gateway enriched by artwork of a scale to capture our imaginations and the explosive power of the internet? Let’s hope so.


Celebrating 100 Years of Rodeo

Last summer we flew out to Las Vegas and drove out to visit the Grand Canyon. On February 26, 2019, the Grand Canyon National Park celebrated 100 years since it’s designation as a national park with events and activities scheduled all year long. When I discovered this year that 2019 was also the centennial of the Reno Rodeo, I nearly had a heart attack. We could have celebrated two centennials in one year! It wasn’t until this year, long after we had canceled plans to visit Reno, that I found an online article outlining last year’s events for the centennial of the Reno Rodeo.

It was over the July 4th weekend, July 3-5, 1919 that local promoters had scheduled the first Reno Round-up. The community celebration was led by the Commercial Club at the time, which merged with the Reno Business League in 1919 to form the Reno Chamber of Commerce. 

Nevada Round-up, from The Yerington Times, Yerington NV 1919

In 1937 the Reno Rodeo and Livestock Association was formed to manage the event. In 1987, they celebrated their 50th anniversary and reorganized as the Reno Rodeo Association. Reno Rodeo Association has led this signature event which has grown into a 10-day romp entertaining 140,000 fans each year. https://renorodeo.com/about/history/

But going back to the beginning of it all, The Silver State newspaper of Winnemucca, NV published an article in July of 1919 in which they mentioned that the Round-up would “mark the first representative gathering of Wild West riders, buckaroos and range experts since the beginning of the war nearly five years ago.” 

The first rodeo advertised $5000 in prize money. During last year’s rodeo, June 21 thru June 29, contestants were expecting to  compete for their chance at nearly $500,000 in prize money. Wow. That’s some growth!

The annual rodeo was a major event when I grew up in Reno. My pals and I attended as much for the adjacent carnival as we did to watch the bull riding and calf roping events. But it’s been decades since I’ve seen a rodeo in person. 

When I learned that last year was the centennial, I decided to create my own commemorative poster. That, and the hand painted frame to showcase my Nevada roots, became my most recent project.

A vintage frame, a silver dollar and two bucks in mercury dimes from my Dad’s estate, turquoise cabochons I cut back in my college years, red coral cabochons I found on Etsy along with cowhide from an outlet in Texas to serve as a backdrop for my state: all found there way into my mini memorial. An Ode to Cowboys!

I was given a vintage picture frame several years ago and have waited to find just the right project to use it on. I decided to go with a whimsical western-style frame decked out in red coral cabochons, silver to commemorate Nevada’s position as the Silver State, and several of the turquoise gemstones I’ve had stashed away in a box for the past 40-some-odd years.

One of the outstanding features of Nevada, at least to those in the Northern part of the state, are the beautiful high-mountain waters of Lake Tahoe. Using another piece of turquoise to represent the lake, it is set on a cowhide background featuring the silhouette of Nevada.

The completed project will find it’s home in our guest bedroom along with a number of other graphics, books on the area, and memorabilia I’ve collected thru the years. I might have missed out on last year’s celebration, but I’ve at least got my own souvenir of the celebration, and it’s definitely one of a kind!

Home Means Nevada!