Hate it or love it, Las Vegas is one of the best-known cities on Earth. Americans and legions of international visitors understand the culture of Las Vegas as one of indulgence rather than restraint. Still, most do recognize Las Vegas as a place that has somehow endured. Some might even know that it is a place with an interesting and complicated history driven by many of the most important issues of our time: immigration; labor; race and equality; water, energy, and resource extraction; and the creation of community in a fast-changing multicultural world. Sustainability in all its meanings are imperatives for this city located deep in the quintessential North American desert. The actual history of this place—as opposed to the powerful myth of its creation—complicates widespread assumptions about Vegas as an ill-conceived and obviously unsustainable place fundamentally different from other twentieth-century cities.
In the American southwest tying rapidly evolving understandings of environmental sustainability into public history education and linking efforts in historic preservation to environmental research has an intuitive logic. Our crazy town is an excellent place to study twentieth-century history and evolving understandings of sustainability, and Las Vegas is a wonderful laboratory for students who work at the intersections of western, environmental, and public history.