City Creek in Downtown Salt Lake vs CityScape

There is only one word to describe City Creek in Downtown Salt Lake: Holy-freaking-cow-this-project-is-amazing. (It’s one word when you use hyphens according to a rule I just made up.)

If only the Phoenix version of this project (called CityScape) were just one percent as good as City Creek, we’d have something to be proud of. But as I’ve hypothesized in the past, CityScape is the crappy first draft that Salt Lake rejected because it sucked.

So someone in the meeting said, “Take it to Phoenix! They will build anything!” A sadly, we do. To be fair, the Mormon Church threw around a few billion dollars to build City Creek whereas in Phoenix we only spent 900 million dollars. Plus Phoenix aims low and goes for the best (i.e. worst) value engineering money can buy. And thus was born CityScape – an eyesore if there ever was one, a suburban office park in the middle of downtown that spitefully ignores the city streets, a project that pays no homage to the city’s past. It’s a gray fortress that looked dated the day it opened.

Not so in Salt Lake. Callison Architecture, the firm from Seattle that designed City Creek is the same firm that designed ShittyScape, er, I mean CityScape.

What a beautiful gray fortress!

The only part of the project that isn't a failure. 1st Street was done right.

CityScape doesn’t acknowledge the historic location on which it is built. Washington Street and Central Avenue has been and is the epicenter for Phoenix. Along these streets the early settlers began to build a city in 1867. Washington Street was lined with businesses, saloons, parks, hotels and theaters. CityScape doesn’t give a crap about any of that almost as if it is purposefully trying to forget. There is one column near Central Avenue in the “park” (I use that term loosely) that has the names of early Phoenicians etched into it but almost like it was an afterthought instead of intentional.

I told the Downtown Devil a few months ago that the only way to fix this abomination would be to blow it up and start over. Then we can make it look like City Creek.

I’d rather discuss the theological criticisms about City Creek another day (for example, why a Church would spend billions on building a shopping center instead of on, I don’t know, helping the needy). The Mormon Church knows how to build a quality project (with tax-exempt money).

A lovely creek runs through the entire project. It represents the original creek that ran through town that the early settlers in Salt Lake relied on. And it was called City Creek. I learned that by reading this historical marker, one of many that is peppered throughout the project.

The creek is impressive. But there is so much attention to detail and artistic flourishes throughout that I found myself giggling with delight. For example, I liked these duck tracks in the pavement.

I like that they recognize the old city street names that once cut through what is now City Creek. This used to be Social Hall Avenue.

And check out this doggie bad dispenser. They could have gone for the cheapest, crappiest, aluminum dispenser and hidden it off to the side. Instead, this one looks (dare I say) artistic and is featured prominently in numerous locations. (CityScape in Phoenix has nothing like this. Dogs are not welcome there.)

But the best I’ve saved for last. I was so impressed by what I saw that I stood there for a moment feeling a great deal of respect for the people who designed this then made it happen. It’s not so obvious in this photo but it’s easy to see in real life. This fountain lines up exactly with the waterfall from the Conference Center to the north, as if it is one straight flow of water originating at the Conference Center. From this view you are looking north from the fountain through the City Creek project, across South Temple, across Temple Square, across North Temple, ending at the Conference Center waterfall. This blew my mind.

I could have photographed City Creek for hours. It had a sense of history, of permanence, of continuity, of beauty. Yes, it’s an open air mall, but it’s built to resemble a dense city.

The project commands respect. If only Phoenix’s CityScape did the same.

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  • Lance K
    April 19, 2012

    Seth, I loved all your comments about City Creek Center in SLC, UT. I went to see it on opening day with some friends and spent 6 delightful hours shopping in amazment. Since then I’ve been back twice and am equally amazed each time I return. I can’t believe that we have this in my home town. I LOVE IT! It has great places to eat, shop and just people watch. It really is something to see and I recommend anyone that comes to SLC take the time to go and just visit City Creek. No worries if the weather is bad, they’ll just shut the retractable roof and warm the place up in about 15 minutes. WOW!

    • J. Seth (I go by Seth) Anderson
      April 19, 2012

      It is a gem. I was so impressed and I will be going back many times to explore. I only had about an hour when I was there so I can’t wait to go back. It’s amazing.

  • Mustafa Demir
    April 19, 2012

    These are awesome pics, and also great interpretation for each picture. Thanks for sharing. Now I really want to see SLC. I think there are lots of art and nature to see.

  • Cody
    April 19, 2012

    I, too, recently visited City Creek and was very impressed by how aesthetically-pleasing it is. I thought it was quite amazing. Say what you will about the LDS Church; they certainly know how to build a mall. I hope it revitalizes downtown like everyone hopes it will. Sorry your City Scape is so crappy.

    It’s sad because I visited Phoenix a couple of years ago and quite liked Heritage Square, for example. It’s too bad the designers of City Scape couldn’t have done something more interesting, artistic, and with a nod to Phoenix’s history like City Creek did for the Salt Lake area.

    Thanks for sharing all the pictures. I, too, was blown away by the fountains.

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