[Source: Life in Downtown Phoenix blog] — On a perfect April night last week, you could see things all starting to come together for downtown Phoenix. On the surface, it was merely a couple hundred people taking in a free movie in a park. But when put in perspective, the screening of The Dark Knight put on by ASU students for a class project was a huge moment that illustrated how far downtown Phoenix has come.
The movie screen was in the center of a juxtaposition of downtown Phoenix’s old and new. The screen sat in front of the newly-restored 1926 A.E. England Building, flanked on its left by the “Her Secret is Patience” sculpture (also referred to by many more colloquially as the “Jellyfish”) and on the right by the very bright lights of the new Central Park East high rise. Moviegoers were pleasantly distracted by the light rail trains that both in front and behind them as well as the news zipper scrolling along on the ASU journalism building. And of course, beneath the movie patrons was the brand-new Downtown Phoenix Civic Space, a 2.77-acre gem of a park that just opened.
An even more positive sign was the crowd that came to watch the movie. Not only did the turnout exceed expectations (with minimal publicity, organizers expected 60-75 attendees and then at least 250 showed up), but it was a crazy blend of people: old and young, all races, ASU students, high-rise condo dwellers, and homeless people. And as far as I could tell, everyone enjoyed themselves.
I’ve been critical of ASU in the past. Its administrators descended on downtown and acted like they owned the place — let’s not forget they wanted to tear down the A.E. England Building they’re now patting themselves on the back for saving — and at first its students publicly bashed their new environment instead of trying to go out and change it for the better. However, on this night ASU’s students had a very positive effect on downtown with their ingenious, well-run program to activate the new park. This event showed the promise the university’s presence can have for downtown.
As the event ended, people were overheard saying what a great event it was, how they couldn’t believe it took place downtown, and how they’d be back (WALL-E will run this Saturday at 7:30 p.m.). Hopefully this is the start of a new tradition that can take its place alongside First Fridays and Suns games as a constant in downtown life. But even if it doesn’t, it was enough to illustrate to everyone there that there is at last a burgeoning urban center in the giant megalopolis.
Apparently, while no one was looking, downtown Phoenix came to life.