Deep in the desert Southwest, a public-private corporation is building a mega-eco-city that will be the hub of a new high-speed rail network. Welcome to “smart-sprawl.”
Since it was founded in 1977, the VPL Authority has worked diligently to facilitate growth in the area circumscribed by Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Los Angeles. The private, public-benefit corporation is headquartered in downtown Phoenix and is little known beyond the desert Southwest, in part because it has been so successful: The region’s rampant growth has rendered the agency’s work all but invisible. But as problems of congestion, irresponsible water use, and unchecked development have begun to plague the region, the VPL has worked to rethink its use of energy and its transportation infrastructure.
What follows is a presentation of a bold new plan for a high-speed rail corridor in the desert Southwest, with a green mega-station called Central Station at its center. Rustam Mehta and Thomas Moran have devoted themselves to drafting this plan and lobbying on its behalf since they were hired out of architecture school two and a half years ago. Now, thanks to the tide of environmentalism sweeping the nation—even Washington, in the form of billions of dollars in stimulus money for building new rail capacity—their plan is becoming a reality.
The video and slide shows on the following pages are testament to the fact that, with audacious thinking, innovative design solutions, and political pragmatism, we can continue to shape the landscape to our will—and also for the betterment of our future.
Click anywhere on the image to begin the slide shows, click    to advance the images manually, and click the slide number to pause.
Design is often a kind of hoax. Fiction lubricates many of the most powerful and transformative enterprises in the world—whether the construction of buildings or of nations. And so it was when Rustam Mehta and Thomas Moran reported on the VPL Authority, one of several projects exhibited in “Some True Stories: Researches in the Field of Flexible Truth
” at New York’s Storefront for Art and Architecture in the fall of 2008.
The projects in “Some True Stories,” many of which addressed global infrastructure, were positioned as examples of the very phenomenon that inspired them: the confidence game of entrepreneurship. The VPL Authority is not only a massive building formation in the desert but also an act of persuasion that accumulates credibility with its advent into culture. Inasmuch as the VPL Authority is rumored to be real or exercises its power to be real, it becomes real. Identifying the authorship of “smart-sprawl” is the least interesting aspect of the game; Mehta and Moran operate as if the world had already come up with the VPL Authority and offer their congratulations and a plan for moving forward.
Like many of the projects in “Some True Stories,” the VPL Authority deliberately avoided confronting the world with forthright reform or utopian prescription, favoring instead agility, ricochet, and cultural contagion. Mehta and Moran deal with spatial entrepreneurialism, unreasonable innovation, impure ethical struggles, and obdurate problems that continually resist intelligence. In this way, the VPL Authority happily swims in the same water as all the other shills, butlers, and go-betweens, looking for new points of leverage within the fictions, rumors, and persuasions that we, as designers, always have running through our fingers. Mehta and Moran spread rumors that the world has changed, operating under all of the guises—and none of the disadvantages—of truth.