Thursday, May 19, 2011

My Thoughts On CityScape

I was recently asked my thoughts on CityScape (and the retailers).  I thought some of you may be interested in what I had to say, so here it is.

My thoughts on CityScape: (Warning - I'm rather philosophical this evening :))

When we think about our travels, whether it's in the U.S. or abroad, I think it's fair to say that most people are won over by a city by its vibrancy and charm, which in this case equates to life in/on the streets, unique experiences, and interesting things to look at.  As an example, the people who would rather browse around an eclectic used bookstore, where the owner comes to greet you and chat, aren't going to prefer to spend the same amount of time (or wish to go at all) to a large box store book retailer.

I think this equates well to the people who actually LIVE downtown.  We like unique. We like charming. We like knowing who we're giving our hard-earned dollars to. 

Life and vibrancy should be on the STREETS - not behind nondescript block walls.  I could name 20 streets throughout the places I've lived and traveled that I've loved for these reasons.  People watching is part of the urban experience.  Watching buses and bikes go by, people walking, people talking.
Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN

I think CityScape blew it with bad suburban design.  The people who want to feel "safe' will continue to shop in malls.  It (CityScape) was not designed or built with the locals in mind, doesn't lend itself to a being an interesting destination where you'd want to spend any real amount of time, and even the "square' (which tries to pose as a "park" in some people's minds) lacks any sort of warmth, shade, or substance to make it interesting.

It makes me sad, because there are so many talented architects and designers here in Phoenix who DO get it, and it was such a fantastic opportunity to take a step in the right direction towards progressive, creative growth.

As far as the retailers go, I personally would have liked to see fewer big name retailers, and the only "chains" at least those that are local to our State. Though I understand it comes down to a $$$ situation, I would have rather seen smaller, organic growth with quality versus quantity, and a more thoughtful selection of tenants.  Of course with the main point being, these tenants would be facing the STREET, where you could shop like a normal human being does in cities across the country.

Can't you picture it? Cafes on the street, trees, awnings providing shade, interesting boutiques and bars, live jazz music streaming out of the doors into the street on warm spring evenings, smells from the shops... I can almost taste it.

Instead we have a "gated community feeling" shopping/entertainment plaza in the heart of our city.  And unfortunately it doesn't have much of a pulse or soul...
CityScape, Phoenix, AZ

So until things change, those of us who live in or near downtown will continue to stick to our edges - Roosevelt area, Grand Ave. - the places where you can feel the heartbeat.  Creative visionaries make any great city and draw people in - including business.  The powers that be just need to start listening to the people who actually live here...

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  1. i agree with you 100% and in a "perfect world" this is how things would work, but we don't live in a "perfect world". i've probably worked and frequented some of the places you "regular" at on roosevelt row. it was awesome having money stolen by the business owners/managers on regular basis... i mean i work for under minimum wage there's plenty to go around right? after a year of dealing with that i gave in, took a job at one of the venues at city scape. i was fucking promoted after working my first full shift. some of the businesses on roosevelt row don't even hire from the neighborhood, exclusively. if they did word would spread about how fucking greedy/shitty the owners really are.

  2. Hey Really,

    That sucks to hear that. It sounds like you dealt with someone pretty unprofessional. Good luck with your new job, and if more people understood the concept of a values driven business, we'd all be better off...

    I know and respect the majority of business owners around Roosevelt, but that's just my experience.

  3. Thanks for your insights. Clearly your article is not about employers and how much they pay, but about the design standards that were used to put this place together and to get people there.

    It's truly shocking that after 20 years of feedback from all segments of Phoenicians about the kind of good pedestrian friendly design they would like to see downtown, Cityscape is what we got. The reason these shopping malls are built like gated communities is they are all about trying to lure business to their specific project and keep it there; it's not about the larger community. We've seen it with both the two big sporting facilities downtown, the Dodge Theater (talk about pedestrian unfriendly design!) the Collier Center, Arizona Center, etc.

    This is a very outmoded way to build; when I look at CityScape it takes me back to the queasy, stomach churning bad mall design of the 70's and 80's. This city has continually allowed these big developers to "vary out of" (i.e get variances for many design standards that are supposedly required) stipulations that would have forced this project to to join us in the 21st Century. Amazingly, and hard to comprehend, is that this lack of good design will be the reason this project will ultimately fail.

  4. such a missed opportunity. and like you, i drove by it the other day withour realizing it.

  5. thats funny (first comment)-are all employee experiences positive at cityscrape?? also where is that park again?-let's just keep supporting the true locals..

  6. The other thing that pisses me off, is the adjoining "temporary" parking lot where the residential stuff was supposed to go with this project. Here's a post I wrote after attending the "hearing" for the granting of its extension of a parking lot. Ugh.

  7. I just came back from two days in Boston and the first thing that I noticed along Massachusetts Avenue (the main thoroughfare in Cambridge, an adjacent city) was the interaction of the buildings with the street. That is, instead of going into a restaurant/shop from the back parking lot, you enter it from the street. And then I get back to Phoenix and there's always at least a row of parking (or an entire lot) between the street and the businesses.

    Also, I was walking back from a local bar to my hotel at 1am and there were people out. For being in a different city, I didn't feel unsafe walking alone. I know that we always like to do things differently here in Phoenix, but seriously, we can learn from cities that have already done this.

  8. Exactly! It's not rocket science.

  9. I live downtown and like cityscape. Not saying it couldn't be better, but it got leased, and is a great place to visit, and I feel makes living in the Orpheum Lofts more attractive, which helps with values.

    Cityscape feels safe. My kids play in the fountain. We sit and read books at the cafe type tables. We eat out in the restaurants. We shop at CVS when my kids have need medicine. My wife now loves Oakville and will get some groceries there to supplement bigger stores.

    I feel like Phoenix downtown gets better every day. Every day. And it's clean, feels pretty safe for my wife and kids, and is just a neat experience living downtown.

    I'm not saying it might have been designed better, but if it works commercially, and is as busy as I see it weekdays and weekends, I think it's great.

  10. I'm happy to hear your family is enjoying downtown! I take my kids to Civic Space Plaza to do those same things on a regular basis.

    This piece was simply about the design o CityScape, which I still think sucks, but we will hopefully as a city be able to learn from these mistakes and do things better with future developments.

    Thanks for your comment.