UCL Urban Laboratory


Producing the 21st Century City: Labor Unions as Urbanists in Las Vegas

11 February 2019, 6:30 pm–8:00 pm

Aseem Inam, Las Vegas Culinary Union headquarters, April 2018

Event Information

Open to



UCL Roberts Building, G08 Sir David Davies LT, Torrington Place, London WC1E 7JE

The spatial production of the city in the 21st century is a complex and multifaceted process that belies the often overly-simplistic narratives. What is often missing in such singular narratives [e.g. of the neoliberal city] is a grasp of the rich and nuanced on-the-ground realities that differ in each context. Such is the case of Las Vegas, which continues largely to be dismissed by scholars as simply an exemplar of extreme neoliberalism, excessive consumption, inauthentic urbanism, city as theatre, or perpetual transience.

In contradistinction, this presentation makes two arguments: (a) more generally, that Las Vegas is worthy of serious study because even as a city of apparent extremes, it reflects similar phenomena in other 21st century cities, and (b) specifically, that Las Vegas shows how social and political movements like labor unions produce the city in unusual and influential ways. Thus, labor unions simultaneously shape and are shaped by the politicaleconomic context of the American city. The paper examines this phenomenon through research on the powerful Culinary Workers Union in Las Vegas.

Through primary and secondary sources, especially field research in Las Vegas, this lecture by Aseem Inam (Chair in Urban Design, Cardiff University) offers several insights. First, it shows that while labor unions may not directly shape the city in the ways that urban designers, city planners or policy makers do, they can and do substantially alter the urban political-economy at the local level. Second, in the absence of a powerful public planning presence in the neoliberal context of contemporary cities, labor unions are among the few influential organizations countering urban precarity through their direct actions. Third, and finally, the success of labor unions in places like Las Vegas is also due to particular spatial features of the city, such as the densities of activity that facilitate effective protests, organizing and ongoing training.


Aseem Inam is Professor and Chair in Urban Design, working across the School of Architecture and the School of Geography and Planning at Cardiff University. He is also Director of TRULAB: Laboratory for Designing Urban Transformation, a pioneering research-based urban practice. Previously, he was the John Bousfield Distinguished Visitor in Urban Planning at the University of Toronto and the founding Director of the highly innovative MA Theories of Urban Practice program at the Parsons School of Design in The New School university in New York City. Dr. Inam has received awards for his teaching at MIT, University of Michigan and the University of Southern California.  He has published numerous professional reports, journal articles, book chapters and books, including 'Planning for the Unplanned: Recovering from Crises', and 'Designing Urban Transformation'. He has practiced as an urbanist in Brazil, Canada, France, Greece, Haiti, India, and the United States.


The lecture is open to the public, no booking required.

Access information

There is step free access into the lecture theatre, and accessible toilets are located within the building. View detailed accessibility information on AccessAble.

Further information: