CityScape: Suburbanizing Downtown Phoenix

CityScape in Phoenix

Photo credit: HX_Guy on city-data.com

Those of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook know that I’m not a fan of CityScape. I was initially excited by the project and had high hopes that the city finally ‘got’ it. However, as the months went by the buildings went up, my excitement turned to guarded skepticism. This week, any hopes I once had were dashed by the following three strikes.

CityScape Strike #1: Urban Form

I recently walked around the exterior of CityScape, Phoenix’s supposedly ‘exciting urban infill’ development. During this walk, my suspicions were confirmed. Far from being an authentic urban development that takes into account the surrounding urban fabric, it is yet another typical suburban development. I guess I was naïve to expect anything different from a project conceived in a Scottsdale business park and designed by an Seattle architect.

CityScape’s idea of urban form is to place a large-scale suburban pharmacy on one corner of the development and an elevator lobby on another corner. So much for encouraging an active street life or pedestrian activity downtown.

While I have no problems with the CVS Pharmacy, I do wish the design took up less street frontage (perhaps placing it on the second floor?). This would free up valuable street frontage for smaller scale businesses. In turn, customers and window shoppers would be attracted, enhancing the urban vitality of the development. Instead we got something like most other CVS’s—large blank walls and faux windows that turn their back on the street, and potential pedestrians.

CityScape Strike #2: Public Space

The supposed ‘park’ to replace the publicly owned Patriots Park, is not really a park. Rather, it is an outdoor arcade on private property surrounded by buildings. This ‘park’ is designed for the office dwellers and patrons of the complex, NOT the citizens and residents of downtown Phoenix. Besides, we already have several downtown park spaces that are chronically under used, why do we need another?

CityScape Strike #3: Grocery Store

On Monday, we learned that the long promised grocery store in downtown Phoenix was not actually a grocery store, but rather a high-end food boutique. I don’t have a problem with Oakville Grocery per se (especially if it keeps its promise to stock locally produced goods). I do take issue, however, with is the conceit that it is a ‘grocery store’ that will meet the needs of downtown residents. There is only so much demand for handmade cheeses and gourmet sandwiches in downtown. Besides the Phoenix Public Market already offers these items and more.

What is really needed downtown is a place to pick up toilet paper, laundry detergent, such as Fresh and Easy or even Trader Joes. Unfortunately, I realize the difficulty in luring other grocers, particularly since the promised residential part of Cityscape is delayed indefinitely. This means that the population needed to support a real grocery store just isn’t there.

Implications: Suburb in the City

As a result of these three strikes, and several others, CityScape represents yet another failed attempt to revitalize downtown. It is basically a mashup of downtown’s last two failed ‘urban infill’ attempts:  Collier Center and Arizona Center. Both these were supposed to enhance downtown’s urban fabric. Both failed miserably at this goal.

A Seattle-style tower in the dessert

The various civic ‘leaders’ who continue to push such misguided projects need to wake up. Instead of facilitating a downtown that ALL residents can enjoy, they have continued on the futile quest to keep suburbanites and tourists downtown after ball games or conventions by creating a suburban haven in the middle of the city.

These so-called leaders need to realize that what’s needed downtown isn’t foisting another new mega-project on us. Rather, we—as a broad-based community—need to radically rethink how we approach development. Until that happen, Phoenix will never realize the potential of being ‘Arizona’s Urban Heart.”

Developments such as Cityscape don’t take us closer to a true downtown; they move us further away. In Phoenix’s desperate attempt to attract suburban tourists, downtown is morphing into a suburb itself.

This is day 16 in my 28 Day Blogging Challenge. 12 days to go.

Other Posts on CityScape

The CityScape Gamble (Rogue Columnist | Jon Talton)
This is Not Another CityScape Joke
(New Times | Martin Cizmar)
CityScape Sucks. Huge Disappointment (Boy Meets Blog | J Seth Anderson)

Yuri Artibise

Yuri Artibise is an experienced policy analyst, community engagement practitioner and social media specialist. I have a Master of Public Administration degree with over 10 years of public policy research, analysis, and advocacy experience.
  • Yikes, Yuri! This thing is loaded with typos!

    I agree w/ most of what you're saying, though. I hope that RED will be able to activate the open space more effectively than phoenix/asu does with Civic Space, and thus give more people an excuse to go there (cheap [free?] parking, if nothing else). Since it's private, it can be administered completely differently, and therefore potentially will avoid at least two of the pitfalls you claim Civic Space fell into.

    In terms of the Oakville issue, perhaps you (and I, and most other DTPhx advocates) are looking at this from the wrong angle. Perhaps RED is positioning CityScape as a regional attraction more than a neighborhood asset. I think the bright side of Oakville is that perhaps it will draw some suburbanites downtown to check it out, who may then eventually become into 44 Monroe (or CityScape itself) residents. That also makes the Lucky Strikes as well as Gold's Gym make a little more sense.

  • Yikes, Yuri! This thing is loaded with typos!

    I agree w/ most of what you’re saying, though. I hope that RED will be able to activate the open space more effectively than phoenix/asu does with Civic Space, and thus give more people an excuse to go there (cheap [free?] parking, if nothing else). Since it’s private, it can be administered completely differently, and therefore potentially will avoid at least two of the pitfalls you claim Civic Space fell into.

    In terms of the Oakville issue, perhaps you (and I, and most other DTPhx advocates) are looking at this from the wrong angle. Perhaps RED is positioning CityScape as a regional attraction more than a neighborhood asset. I think the bright side of Oakville is that perhaps it will draw some suburbanites downtown to check it out, who may then eventually become into 44 Monroe (or CityScape itself) residents. That also makes the Lucky Strikes as well as Gold’s Gym make a little more sense.

  • I do think your call for a fundamental rethink of the way we do development is much needed. The mega-project that has occurred so many times in downtown Phoenix will not provide the tipping point that creates a vibrant urban core.

  • Thanks Andrew, that’s what happens when you post without reviewing… Hopefully I caught most of the typos now.

    The open space may be more popular, but I doubt it will be a true public place. How much do you want to bet that I’ll be allowed to stage an ‘Anti-Tea Party’ there, or hold a No Pants Day event there (without getting kicked out as we did at the AZ Center). Even if it is successful, it will further deteriorate the use of Civic Space and other parks in the downtown area. After all, you were right that a key problem is a lack of residents, which CityScape does nothing to adress. If anything CityScape will further exacerbate the problem by diluting the attention the few people that currently live and play downtown.

    As for looking at it from the wrong angle you may be right. However, we were promised downtown’s ‘First Grocery Store” by the mayor, not a high end boutique that sounds an awful lot like the existing Urban Grocery and Wine Bar.

    I have no problem with CityScape being a ‘regional attraction’ indeed it should be a downtown for all residents. But we already have high end ‘downtowns’ in the Valley that are more established and better done than CityScape and yet are still faltering. CityNorth, Kierland Commons and Scottsdale Waterfront come to mind. What makes people think that CityScape will be any more successful? Hence may call for a fundamental rethink of how development is done around here.

    • I do think your call for a fundamental rethink of the way we do development is much needed. The mega-project that has occurred so many times in downtown Phoenix will not provide the tipping point that creates a vibrant urban core.

  • Yuri Artibise

    Thanks Andrew, that's what happens when you post without reviewing… Hopefully I caught most of the typos now.

    The open space may be more popular, but I doubt it will be a true public place. How much do you want to bet that I'll be allowed to stage an 'Anti-Tea Party' there, or hold a No Pants Day event there (without getting kicked out as we did at the AZ Center). Even if it is successful, it will further deteriorate the use of Civic Space and other parks in the downtown area. After all, you were right that a key problem is a lack of residents, which CityScape does nothing to adress. If anything CityScape will further exacerbate the problem by diluting the attention the few people that currently live and play downtown.

    As for looking at it from the wrong angle you may be right. However, we were promised downtown's 'First Grocery Store” by the mayor, not a high end boutique that sounds an awful lot like the existing Urban Grocery and Wine Bar.

    I have no problem with CityScape being a 'regional attraction' indeed it should be a downtown for all residents. But we already have high end 'downtowns' in the Valley that are more established and better done than CityScape and yet are still faltering. CityNorth, Kierland Commons and Scottsdale Waterfront come to mind. What makes people think that CityScape will be any more successful? Hence may call for a fundamental rethink of how development is done around here.

  • I see your point about the Arizona Center: without the movie theaters, the place is kind of useless to downtown residents. How does CityScape compare? There are four retail stores/restaurants that have me interested: the CVS, Gold's Gym, Urban Outfitters and the new LGO. The way I see things, that's four more reasons to walk/bike/pedicab over to that part of our urban core.

  • I see your point about the Arizona Center: without the movie theaters, the place is kind of useless to downtown residents. How does CityScape compare? There are four retail stores/restaurants that have me interested: the CVS, Gold’s Gym, Urban Outfitters and the new LGO. The way I see things, that’s four more reasons to walk/bike/pedicab over to that part of our urban core.

  • I can't think of a better time to come see the great documentary, MALLS R US, at the Phoenix Art Museum this Sunday, 2/28 at 1 pm (doors open at 12:30). It's a free screening, just ask for your pass at the front entrance.

    Why this film? It explores the history, psychology, cultural changes and failures of the mall-ification of the world…not just a U.S. problem. As a matter of fact, it strikes home even more successfully and close to home, with scenes of the massive malls of Dubai(remember,our “partners”?)and even opens with scenes from the NorthValley of Phoenix.The last few scenes at Glendale's Cabelas are some very funny and ironic moments.

    Sponsored by http://www.citycircles.com, preseneted by PAM and No Festival Required Independent Cinema… more info http://www.nofestivalrequired.com

  • I can’t think of a better time to come see the great documentary, MALLS R US, at the Phoenix Art Museum this Sunday, 2/28 at 1 pm (doors open at 12:30). It’s a free screening, just ask for your pass at the front entrance.

    Why this film? It explores the history, psychology, cultural changes and failures of the mall-ification of the world…not just a U.S. problem. As a matter of fact, it strikes home even more successfully and close to home, with scenes of the massive malls of Dubai(remember,our “partners”?)and even opens with scenes from the NorthValley of Phoenix.The last few scenes at Glendale’s Cabelas are some very funny and ironic moments.

    Sponsored by http://www.citycircles.com, preseneted by PAM and No Festival Required Independent Cinema… more info http://www.nofestivalrequired.com

  • Donna

    You've hit the nail on the head. Those of us who were able to be superficially involved in the “design” of this project begged the city to make sure that it did not put its back to the surrounding historic buildings…but who listens to us? And all that glass radiates heat and glare and that was noticeable in January. Imagine what it will be like this summer! All along, those of us who protested the removal of Patriots Park, said that what the developer “claimed” would actually be more green space than what was in Patriots Park (depending on how one's interpretation of this may be) is nothing more than public financing of a development's green space, not a park. And it will probably come complete with canned music (heaven help those of us who prefer to have some quiet moments during the day). This is just another one of those projects that managed to move into being while Urban Form was moving at a snail's pace. No one in the city was “Brave” enough to try to get the developer/architect to include those ideas into this ho hum project. Andrew's idea of this begin an attraction. Heard that before about the Arizona Center. Didn't happen. I have no reason to come down and “see/check” out the high end grocery store which is not even local. I would probably go to AJ's first. But then I am totally a Farmer's Market buyer plus what I grow in my own garden. As for CVS, there is one much closer on my bus route. And I would prefer to support the Downtown Y over Gold's Gym. You see, most of businesses going into this project are already downtown. So all it does is to add to the overwhelming retail space in the valley which we can not possibly support.

  • Donna

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. Those of us who were able to be superficially involved in the “design” of this project begged the city to make sure that it did not put its back to the surrounding historic buildings…but who listens to us? And all that glass radiates heat and glare and that was noticeable in January. Imagine what it will be like this summer! All along, those of us who protested the removal of Patriots Park, said that what the developer “claimed” would actually be more green space than what was in Patriots Park (depending on how one’s interpretation of this may be) is nothing more than public financing of a development’s green space, not a park. And it will probably come complete with canned music (heaven help those of us who prefer to have some quiet moments during the day). This is just another one of those projects that managed to move into being while Urban Form was moving at a snail’s pace. No one in the city was “Brave” enough to try to get the developer/architect to include those ideas into this ho hum project. Andrew’s idea of this begin an attraction. Heard that before about the Arizona Center. Didn’t happen. I have no reason to come down and “see/check” out the high end grocery store which is not even local. I would probably go to AJ’s first. But then I am totally a Farmer’s Market buyer plus what I grow in my own garden. As for CVS, there is one much closer on my bus route. And I would prefer to support the Downtown Y over Gold’s Gym. You see, most of businesses going into this project are already downtown. So all it does is to add to the overwhelming retail space in the valley which we can not possibly support.

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  • Peter Disbury

    I have to agree with your post here but hey this is America and things take time for this country to jump on the band wagon that other countries have been doing for decades. It is up to the people. How many people have you “personally interviewed” in downtown Phoenix? Where in downtown Phoenix do you live? I currently live at the Campaige Place and have to say that this urban area is very disappointing but it is what it is. I have interviewed hundreds of people and most don't care what is offered down here. There are the few like you and I who obviously wish to see something dynamic and sustainable downtown but until enough people come together and pool their resources it will take perhaps another century until something really takes shape. I have lived in the USA for a good 30 years now and have seen countless cities with the opportunity to develop something amazing but……….it takes serious persuading to convince the locals to “wake up”! In order to get a real company downtown into the heart of Phoenix one would need a “loyal” following however since most buyers are impulse buyers and fickle that is almost non existent here in this country. Something akin to Trader Joe's makes sense but how does one convince people to be loyal to that company? The only way I see people being loyal is to offer a substantial discount to the “patrons” buying their groceries. I have worked for some high end grocery markets myself and have around 6 years in the industry but I also know that to get great customer service one needs to pay their employees well. Making it non profit allows the “owners” to pay their staff well and also offer an inviting price for their products. For example: Organic Soy milk should not cost more than $2.00 per 32oz unit but I have seen other places “locally” that charge an extra $1.00 to cover their costs. To me it makes sense to offer a lower more cost effective price for groceries especially during this “economic decline” and allow people within the city proper to afford groceries. The larger surrounding grocery stores make their money through volume so they do well and the smaller companies here can do the same through volume. There is no reason that the smaller companies here should have a 100% markup it should be a 30% markup especially now.
    There is plenty of space downtown that would allow “market gardens” yet the city officials do not have enough people banding together to get a fire under their butts and off their comfortable stools. I have heard many people complain that the “wasted spaces” downtown can be used but rarely have people actually come together. People have a hard time with “sharing” but this is an American trait. Americans are the #1 complainers in the world and with the abundance of “junk food” at their disposal it makes sense. You are what you eat so it makes sense that if you put garbage in your body you will feel like …………………you guessed it “garbage”. What I have seen downtown is the focus on money not sustainability or “vision” since so much money is going into the “exterior attraction”. I have to say a positive here with the convention center and the “sustainable gardens” they have errected. They have made it very inviting there but can go further with growing “food”.
    All these homeless individuals panhandling, defecating on the streets, urinating in the side alleys etc. These individuals can actually serve a “positive purpose” by working on a “sustainable parcel of land” here in downtown phoenix. The whole setup could be to develop a 10 acre “market garden” downtown on one of the many “unused spaces” and certain members of the community would instruct these individuals to prepare the land and get some sort of compensation. All the legalities could be drawn up and ironed out but the so called “homeless community” can also have “dwellings” that are made out of Pacific Yurts submerged 50% into the ground to keep cool in the summer time. The whole focus would be to grow indiginous plants, fruits, vegetables etc using the “homeless community” and those who work there get to live there for free. Of course there would be a security member there to enforce (no alcohol, no drugs, no violent behavior etc). This is all feasable but the “political parties” need to get their heads out of the sand and “open their eyes”. This is all attainable but all I hear are complaints as to why it won't work rarely do I hear “hey that is a great idea” or “that is interesting let me make some contacts and I will call you”.

    Cheeky Pete

  • Peter Disbury

    I have to agree with your post here but hey this is America and things take time for this country to jump on the band wagon that other countries have been doing for decades. It is up to the people. How many people have you “personally interviewed” in downtown Phoenix? Where in downtown Phoenix do you live? I currently live at the Campaige Place and have to say that this urban area is very disappointing but it is what it is. I have interviewed hundreds of people and most don’t care what is offered down here. There are the few like you and I who obviously wish to see something dynamic and sustainable downtown but until enough people come together and pool their resources it will take perhaps another century until something really takes shape. I have lived in the USA for a good 30 years now and have seen countless cities with the opportunity to develop something amazing but……….it takes serious persuading to convince the locals to “wake up”! In order to get a real company downtown into the heart of Phoenix one would need a “loyal” following however since most buyers are impulse buyers and fickle that is almost non existent here in this country. Something akin to Trader Joe’s makes sense but how does one convince people to be loyal to that company? The only way I see people being loyal is to offer a substantial discount to the “patrons” buying their groceries. I have worked for some high end grocery markets myself and have around 6 years in the industry but I also know that to get great customer service one needs to pay their employees well. Making it non profit allows the “owners” to pay their staff well and also offer an inviting price for their products. For example: Organic Soy milk should not cost more than $2.00 per 32oz unit but I have seen other places “locally” that charge an extra $1.00 to cover their costs. To me it makes sense to offer a lower more cost effective price for groceries especially during this “economic decline” and allow people within the city proper to afford groceries. The larger surrounding grocery stores make their money through volume so they do well and the smaller companies here can do the same through volume. There is no reason that the smaller companies here should have a 100% markup it should be a 30% markup especially now.
    There is plenty of space downtown that would allow “market gardens” yet the city officials do not have enough people banding together to get a fire under their butts and off their comfortable stools. I have heard many people complain that the “wasted spaces” downtown can be used but rarely have people actually come together. People have a hard time with “sharing” but this is an American trait. Americans are the #1 complainers in the world and with the abundance of “junk food” at their disposal it makes sense. You are what you eat so it makes sense that if you put garbage in your body you will feel like …………………you guessed it “garbage”. What I have seen downtown is the focus on money not sustainability or “vision” since so much money is going into the “exterior attraction”. I have to say a positive here with the convention center and the “sustainable gardens” they have errected. They have made it very inviting there but can go further with growing “food”.
    All these homeless individuals panhandling, defecating on the streets, urinating in the side alleys etc. These individuals can actually serve a “positive purpose” by working on a “sustainable parcel of land” here in downtown phoenix. The whole setup could be to develop a 10 acre “market garden” downtown on one of the many “unused spaces” and certain members of the community would instruct these individuals to prepare the land and get some sort of compensation. All the legalities could be drawn up and ironed out but the so called “homeless community” can also have “dwellings” that are made out of Pacific Yurts submerged 50% into the ground to keep cool in the summer time. The whole focus would be to grow indiginous plants, fruits, vegetables etc using the “homeless community” and those who work there get to live there for free. Of course there would be a security member there to enforce (no alcohol, no drugs, no violent behavior etc). This is all feasable but the “political parties” need to get their heads out of the sand and “open their eyes”. This is all attainable but all I hear are complaints as to why it won’t work rarely do I hear “hey that is a great idea” or “that is interesting let me make some contacts and I will call you”.

    Cheeky Pete

  • KatieStoeller

    I know a lot of people agree with you, but I think that a place like CityScape will actually stay popular. Even though it might not be very urban it is bringing a lot of great places to downtown Phoenix that otherwise would have never signed a lease per say in that area, because honestly where could they. I would rather go to shops like Urban Outfitters in CityScape than going to Tempe or Scottsdale. Plus I'm a Phoenix resident and I want to support our city. I do agree that the food tax will be great because there are a good amount of places going in that will generate money for the city from the food tax. Plus I've lived in Phoenix my whole life and although I love the nostalgia of bowling at an AMF Lanes I think that place they are bringing in will be a nice change of scenery.

  • KS

    I know a lot of people agree with you, but I think that a place like CityScape will actually stay popular. Even though it might not be very urban it is bringing a lot of great places to downtown Phoenix that otherwise would have never signed a lease per say in that area, because honestly where could they. I would rather go to shops like Urban Outfitters in CityScape than going to Tempe or Scottsdale. Plus I’m a Phoenix resident and I want to support our city. I do agree that the food tax will be great because there are a good amount of places going in that will generate money for the city from the food tax. Plus I’ve lived in Phoenix my whole life and although I love the nostalgia of bowling at an AMF Lanes I think that place they are bringing in will be a nice change of scenery.

  • Apstrougo

    THANK YOU for this entry… although I’ve discovered it a bit late. I just (20 minutes ago) walked by the development and had to fight off a rage I felt growing. I’m a native Phoenix resident and an architect, and have studied urbanism to some extent and agree 200% with what you’ve said. When will developers learn that to be part of a city you must address the city (streets…)…
    Cityscape Definitely got it wrong.

  • Apstrougo

    THANK YOU for this entry… although I've discovered it a bit late. I just (20 minutes ago) walked by the development and had to fight off a rage I felt growing. I'm a native Phoenix resident and an architect, and have studied urbanism to some extent and agree 200% with what you've said. When will developers learn that to be part of a city you must address the city (streets…)…
    Cityscape Definitely got it wrong.

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  • I realize this comment thread is at peace and that Cityscape is almost complete at this point- but I just stumbled in. It reminds so much of what happened in November- in Mesa of all places.
    Mesa? I know- you’re not surprised. Just trust me for a second.

    Last November, residents here voted for yet another obscene land giveaway under the guise of Proposition 420. The details of the agreement between the Chicago Cubs organization and the City of Mesa were the net result of a 6 month long posturing affair- that revealed the Cubs had been lusting after the parcel of land at the Northern 101/202 interchange.

    Nevermind that this area is currently a municipal asset utilized by the surrounding community: a park with softball and soccer fields and a lake- and that the area is already over-saturated with retail ( Tempe Marketplace / Mesa Riverview)- that the land is being gifted to the Cubs and the building of their stadium financed on indefinite terms taxpayer dollars- and that the “Yes on 420” commercial ad campaign was contributed to by the municipality its self…

    The biggest issue to me is that the entire “Wrigleyville” complex ( A stadum, practice facility, baseball museum, and retail/entertainment district) will be built on a remote corner of the city adjacent to Tempe and Scottsdale, essentially as a suburban oasis for vacationers and visitors. It simply does nothing to invite visitors into our community, and overwhelmingly is not even built for the people of who live in the surrounding neighborhood. But it asks for their tax dollars.
    It’s obscene.

    What’s more- your comment “The supposed ‘park’ to replace the publicly owned Patriots Park, is not really a park, but an outdoor arcade on private property surrounded by buildings”. Is simply a blueprint for exactly what will become of the the promise to preserve Riverview Park.

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