Phoenix’s CityScape Fails to Live Up to the Hype

Cityscape Fails to Live Up to the Hype - Yurbanism

Flickr Phot by Nick Bastien

A little over a year Iago, I shared my first observations on CityScape. It has been one of my most popular posts.

At the time I wasn’t impressed. People told me to give it time; wait until the businesses start opening up; attend a few events.

Well, I’ve done all three, and I’m more disappointed than ever.



The project seems to ignore key concepts of New Urbanism design, which calls for more windows and openings. In this way, CityScape is inward-looking and smacks of Arizona Center. I’m concerned that they made some of the same mistakes, and that we didn’t learn a lot since that time.

—Grady Gammage Jr. in Phoenix Magazine

Cityscape continues to represent all that is wrong with Phoenix: artificial, ignorant of its site and isolated from it’s surroundings. Despite being promoted as the centerpiece of downtowns re-re-re-revitalization, the development has yet to deliver. Hopes of residential units have been delayed—if not dashed, the anticipated grocery store (high-end or otherwise) has yet to open, high-profile local businesses have pulled out and national chains have reduced hours or laid off staff.

Where’s The City?

Not only is Cityscape blatantly anti-city and anti-urban; it doesn’t even compare well with its suburban competition. From the inside there is no there there. Patriots Square is still a concrete mess, the exterior windows are still covered and the few businesses have minimal signage, their glazed windows make it difficult to see what’s inside (particularly on the upper levels).

We are accustomed to accepting change in the name of progress without taking a questioning look backward.

—Roberta Brandes Gratz, The Living City, pg. 312.

Cityscape Fails to Live Up to the Hype - Yurbanism

Photo Credit: Fred M. on Yelp

Boosters of CityScape may like the convenience of the parking, the sterility cleanliness, the security (read homeless patrol) and the excitement that occurs during peak moments. What they don’t comment on is the emptiness that pervades the development between these rare events. They also seem to be immune to the banal architecture and it’s isolation from the rest of downtown, highlighted by the contemptuously blank walls facing large swathes of Jefferson and Washington. Sure, CityScape may be better than ‘nothing’, but do we really want to set the bar so low?

To be fair, I do like a few of the tenants especially the newly opened Arrogant Butcher and even the franchised Jimmy Johns. I’m happy that downtown finally has a pharmacy. However they are not enough. Indeed, I wish that they were the exception that proves the rule, and not the rule themselves.

These type of businesses should be the lures to get people excited and drawn downtown where they discover locally owner businesses and begin frequenting them. Instead, customers of Jimmy’s get to see a competing chain; and Arrogant Butcher diners get a panoramic view of parking lots.

I think CityScape is more of a convenience than a destination. I don’t think they’re creating any kind of unique experience for anyone that’s been in Phoenix and shopped before.

—Steve Rosenstein, co-owner of The Duce, in Phoenix Magazine

Mixed Use is Not a Panacea

To make things worse for downtown as a whole, the few business that have opened, and several of the office tower tenants could have easily found space. Instead of using public funds (which now  make up about half the project’s funding) to lure business to CityScape, the city could have helped these businesses settle in downtown’s existing urban fabric.

Imagine the Arrogant Butcher and CVS on the ground floor of the incredible Luhr’s complex, or Lucky Strike reusing the under appreciated McGinnis Building across from the Duce on South Central? The remaining stores and restraints could have easily fit in the empty store fronts of the Collier Center, Cronkite Building or several other nearby buildings The office tenants could have stayed in the previous downtown locations, or moved to the Luhr’s buildingor the former Phelps Dodge offices.

By going this route we now have MORE empty offices and store fronts downtown than ever before. Indeed, CityScape is looking more and more like the Collier Center, with Lucky Strike filling the role of Hard rock; Arrogant Butcher playing Kincaid’s and Banner Health acting as Bank of America.

Phoenix needs to learn that while mixed-use is important, a mixed used mega development will never be a substitute for the authentic diversity that grows out of several smaller-scale densely organized projects.

The Paradox Remains

CityScape is a paradox. It was intended to be a bold new form of development downtown, but ended up being a lesser facsimile of the Arizona and Collier Centers. But perhaps the biggest irony is that while it’s name and marketing scream their urban ambitions, CityScape is almost without a sense of urbanism. To borrow Michael Sorkin’s appraisal of New York’s Lincoln Center, the development is

Like a giant spaceship… offering close encounters with the city, but not too close. The buildings are always adamant about their alien status.

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.


  1. For the most part, I agree with your critique of CityScape, but I find it ironic that the owner of the Duce is criticizing CityScape. Why? Because the Duce is just like CityScape in its failure to the address the street. CityScape showcases blanks walls on many sides, but at least offers patio dining on 1st Street. The Duce looks like an inpenetrable fortress from both Lincoln St. and Central Avenue, and those who approach on foot must enter via the parking lot. I realize there are a lot of reasons to like the Duce over CityScape, but let’s hold both big projects and beloved indie businesses to a consistent standard in terms of how they interact with their surroundings.

    • Thanks David. To be fair to Steve, I only cited one of his carefully measured comments. He also said that Cityscape does a good job of building ‘critical mass’ downtown. Although I would argue that CityScape SHOULDN’T be a destination but more of a convince for people already living there, downtown’s should be for residents first, it should attract people to live downtown, not just visit. Alas Cityscape is neither enough of a destination for suburbanites, nor enough of a convenience for downtowners and fails at creating the critical mass for either.

      I see The Duce and CityScape as two incomparable projects. Whereas CityScape was dropped in on downtown and ignores the history and urban fabric of it’s surroundings (and even its own location), The Duce is an attempt to maintain and restore a warehouse previously slated for demolition in an rather hostile part of town (from a urbanism perspective.)

      CityScape intentionally turns its back to the (potential) activity on the streets—especially Jefferson. indeed its form actively discourages street life from occurring, other than in it’s own privately controlled areas. The Duce is trying to make the most of a bad situation. Hopefully, when the McGinnis building across Central gets occupied,the street may have a bit more pedestrian (and car) traffic and The Duce can open its Central facing doors and daylight the windows. Returning Central to a two way street and restoring the original sidewalk widths would would also help make it more vibrant and allow businesses to open up to the street.

      In short The Duce has history AND potential and is in a postion to build on both. CityScape has neither, Indeed, it actively turns it’s back on both. Besides, CityScape got large government subsidies (approx 50% of it’s total cost to date) and several zoning/code variances to be the (self declared) “focal point for urban living and urban community” in downtown Phoenix. They failed miserably. They deserve to be held to a much higher standard for building such an ahistorical suburban mess than entrepreneurs working on their own (and in many cases against city interference) to preserve a small part of Phoenix’s vanishing history.

      • I appreciate your detailed reply and enthusiastic defense of the Duce, but I don’t understand why opening the doors and windows facing Central has to wait for occupancy of the building across the street. Can you clarify why those things can’t be done now?

        • My question is to what point? I see no redeeming value in opening up The Duce to S Central now. Unlike Jefferson, and to a lesser extent Washington—which were pedestrian friendly (especially in front of the Luhrs complex—that stretch of S. Central needs significant improvement and infill before it can be considered even remotely walkable.

          There is no way to access that part of Central directly on foot and no parking is allowed on the street. Indeed 99% of the customers approach the Duce from the back (car or not). I have walked and biked there from downtown several times, and although it is a longer trip, it is easier to approach it from 1st Ave than S Central or 1st St. Gett the City to allow parking on Central, widen the sidewalks and turn it into a two way street, and then we can talk about opening doors and windows.

          Also, unlike CityScape, The Duce never had ambitions to be Phoenix’s ‘urban focal point’. Indeed, part of it’s charm is it’s hide-a-way/speakeasy feel. And like all good urban places, it will evolve based on it’s surroundings and the evolution of the warehouse district, something CityScape was not designed to do.

          • Okay, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree about the Duce. Windows and doors open to the street are what I consider a minimum standard, whether it’s the Duce or a CVS drugstore. Businesses like the Duce can and should be vanguards in addressing the street even if the condition of that street leaves much to be desired.

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