The previous post on downtown Phoenix generated many comments about other downtowns in the metro area, so let's take a tour.
Some common denominators are found. None of these cites have a real urban downtown. Most also suffer to some degree from land banking, which produces blight and prevents the infill that would create critical mass. Many are far from the residences of better-off folks, so there's little incentive for them to patronize downtown. Most suffer from the dreadful sameness of development in the region, with "master-planned communities" separating themselves from their nominal cities while malls and office "parks" draw off retail and commercial businesses from a central business district. Most are located in what were little farm towns during the golden age of American architecture and civic design, so they lack good bones. A few are attempts at New Urbanist town centers -- but that doesn't make them real downtowns, from the lack of diversity to the lack of connectivity. All except for downtown Tempe lack convenient transit/light rail. Despite all the studies and consultants, few city leaders seem to understand urban or even get out much. Beating Fresno is taken as a great achievement. All suffer from lack of serious business-driven investment, depending instead on real estate-driven speculation. Almost all lack the public spaces, much less inviting and inspiring public spaces, essential to real downtowns.
Given its huge population, Mesa should have the region's second real downtown. Unfortunately the city's short-sighted, haphazard development grab in the '80s and '90s, combined with no significant, sustained focus on downtown, leaves it lacking. The arts center was a good start, and Mesa at least didn't tear down its Main Street core (it did allow its lovely Southern Pacific depot to rot, then burn down). Mayor Scott Smith wants a major Mesa Community College presence there -- another good start. But the lure of the Gateway land scheme will keep drawing away energy and investment -- the Cubs stadium being the latest example (Smith tells me the Cubs wouldn't go for a downtown ballpark near light rail -- enjoy $10-a-gallon gasoline). The lack of LDS power to enhance downtown and its connection to the Arizona Temple is bizarre. Meanwhile, Mesa courts dullness and conformity (hiding away its significant poor, Latino population). So its lack of coolness also keeps it from making the most of what it has.