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.
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.
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.