The Failed Cosmopolitan Canopy
People want to believe that we live in a world where color, race, religion, ethnicity or simply someone’s outfit is not the first thing that they see. However, no matter how hard we try as a society, the book cover is impossible not to judge. Elijah Anderson writes in her book “Cosmopolitan Canopy” about Louis Wirth’s idea of urbanism. Anderson describes how “Especially striking to him was people’s “blase” orientation as they traversed the urban spaces with an impersonal bearing that suggested an attitude of indifference” (Anderson 14). In a world where everything is at our fingertips it’s easy to get annoyed when things don’t happen in a split second. It is easy to forget to look at the world once and awhile and it is much too easy to see people as things rather than human beings. Anderson’s idea of a cosmopolitan canopy enlists the thought that there are places where that judgment and today’s idealistic way of thinking ceases to exist and people actually remember how to act like common humans instead of each other’s competition. However these places are far and in between and sadly rare in today’s society. I thought I knew of a place like this and planned to explain how it projected the cosmopolitan canopy idea, until I went there and realized it was the farthest thing from a cosmopolitan canopy.
The Scottsdale Quarter sits in what they like to advertise as “the Beverly Hills of the Desert.” This description alone, gives you a pretty good idea of the type of people walking through the open air shopping center. The Quarter’s website writes that it is “Managed and leased by the Washington Prime Group, a premier retail real estate investment trust with a portfolio of 119 enclosed regional malls and open-air lifestyle community centers.” The scene is quite breathtaking for a shopping and dining complex. The vibe is relaxed and bright, with palm trees lining the plaza and lights strung overhead. A splash pad in the middle creates a soothing sound of water trickling and splashing in combination of the upbeat music which comes faintly from the speakers hidden around the entire center. The aroma of freshly made food wafts through the air and the sound of chatter and forks hitting plates is always present. The shops surrounding the central plaza are highly sought retailers, from Lululemon, to Calvin Klein and Intermix. The ‘shopping on a budget’ theory is hard to put into play here. It is modern, upbeat and trendy, you don’t get the sense of historic architecture or anything like that. Built in 2009, The Quarter executes one thing perfectly, wealth.
As I walked around, trying to be more perceptive than usual, I noticed that this place was not a cosmopolitan canopy at all. This was made very clear when I pretended to be new to the area and asked a latino man, who appeared to just be getting off work for directions. I then asked if he liked it here and his response was brilliant. He told me “I think people in these types of places forget that we are no longer on facebook or instagram,” seeing my look of misunderstanding he expanded on that. “People who enjoy places like The Quarter live in a bubble. The only time they feel they can expand that bubble is when they sit behind a screen and feel power through their fingers, they can say whatever they want because if someone gets mad they can delete, block, or unfollow them. When in the real world I just feel like people today forget that they can’t just press delete.” I had not expected to get this great of a response and it opened my eyes even more to the enclosed bubble of perfection that The Quarter sits in. He had to get going and I immediately felt the need to talk to other people. A young african american woman sat on one of the stone benches as her two kids played in the splash pad. I walked over and told her I was writing a blog about places like The Quarter and if she had a second to share some thoughts. She wasn’t as outspoken as the latino man but her words shaped my new idea of The Quarter as well. In a nutshell she told me that she loved it here because it felt safe, clean and the food is delicious. I wanted her to expand on if she felt being african american in a place like this, if she was treated any different, but she didn’t touch on that. However, when I first began to walk over to her she looked weary of my approach, which could mean she had not been talked to by a stranger here before. Overall I got the sense that the people most comfortable here have handbags worth hundreds of dollars and brunch in the middle of the week. Although I concluded this was definitely not a cosmopolitan canopy, it has bits and pieces of a canopy in which are very interesting. “They check others out, practicing a form of folk ethnography, making sense of what they observe while reserving the right to be highly selective in their sources of evidence” (Anderson 28).
I stand here in the middle of the plaza, people are to my left and to my right. In front of me, which you can not see is a restaurant called True Food Kitchen. People walk around here making conversion with their friends, but somehow fail to notice anyone else around them. Rarely smiles are shared with strangers and it is as if everyone here is strutting around in an attempt to be the best, without even knowing it. There is the older crowd who came out for dinner and the younger crowd, some are young couple, some are young parents and some are middle aged couples out with friends. Regardless, it is easy to spot the locals and the tourists.
The truth is this reflects a larger problem in today’s society. The ability to notice those around us who may be a little different than our usual crowd or have different idealists, seems to decrease every day. Like the latino man said, “People forget they can’t just press delete.” And where civility is radiated and enforced, it is not genuine and there are not nearly enough eye contact or smiles exchanged. I found that as I walked down the rows of shops and palm trees even I would look past people, sometimes even purposely avoiding eye contact. For what reason? I don’t know. “As urbanites, they encounter people who are strangers to them, not just as individuals but also as representatives of groups they “know” only in the abstract” (Anderson 28). Don’t get me wrong, I love The Quarter, the vibe is relaxing and everything is bright and happy, it would just be nice if the people who felt that reflected it to others.
Scottsdale Quarter. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 May 2017.
Anderson, Elijah. The cosmopolitan canopy: race and civility in everyday life. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012. Print.
“In This Section.” Scottsdale Arizona Neighborhood Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 May 2017.