I know that the open call specified cities in America, but if you really want to see the awkwardness and ugliness of corporate-developed urban entertainment districts, then Manila is the place to go.
It started with malls. You have to understand that the Philippines has always been a third-world country, so the government has never had enough funds (mainly due to corruption) for proper city planning and development. We don't have wide roads, where pedestrians can leisurely walk along and window-shop. In fact, walking along the roads in Manila is a nightmare because there is practically no pedestrain space; you'd constantly be trying to dodge zooming cars, giant pot-holes, and all while trying to walk sideways because there is often a ramp between the roads and buildings for cars to park. Again, because of costs, basement parking or level-parking is too expensive. In Manila, cars are prioritized; it's an extremelt polluted city that I imagine if you were to expose yourself to the smog and carbon monoxide emissions everyday, then you'd have permanent lung damage within a year's time.
Anyway, the point of all that was to illustrate how the government never properly funded city planning. What this means for the shopping culture is that you can never shop on the street. Hence, the cost-effective solution of shopping malls. One limited space where you can have a wealth of stores piled on top of each other, where you don't have to think about how much road you're going to pave, how much area you're going to alot for pedestrians and most importantly, how you're going to cut down on city air pollution. But it wasn't even the government who thought of this solution. It was the savvy profit-hungry businessman, like Henry Sy, John Gokongwei, Jr. and the Ayala family.
Henry Sy's malls are an eyesore. There is absolutely no other way to describe it. It is a fact. I'll try to upload pictures, but imagine this: a gargantuan block of a windowless warehouse with the bright and gaudy letters "SM" (for Shoe Mart) splashed across the front. And each and every one of his malls look like this.
John Gokongwei, Jr.'s Robinson's malls are no better. However, the Ayalas' - I suppose there's no other explanation for it other than they're old-rich and European - their most famous chain of malls, Greenbelt, is cleaner and more progressive-looking. They incorporate the use of glass in the construction and plants. Lots and lots of green, leafy plants. They usually have an atrium in the center of the mall, where it's just a place for people to walk around an environment that resembles a miniature open/closed greenhouse. I think that this was the beginning of corporate-developed entertainment areas.
The Ayalas' next project, the latest in their shopping developments, is Serendra, a shopping district with wide, paved pedestrian walkways for ample window-shopping and promenading. It feels like being in another country, which I suppose is the goal because Serendra High Street is a corporate copy of the style of Europe's Champs-Elysee or the streets of Bordeaux. It's a happening place because people can enjoy walking around and being free as opposed to being constarined withint four air-cnoditioned walls inisde a themed restaurant (very popular in Manila) with overly-bright lighting and stuffy decorative motifs.
However, there is the unmistakable air of fakeness about it all. When you're there, you get the feeling that people are there mainly because they're eager to have a good chance to show off their nice clothes, or to simply eat at the restaurants situated in the poshest place in the metro. There is no organic, vibrant charge. No sense of community. No sense of the possibility of growth. People go to show off, eat and feel rich, the go home, driving through streets lined with squatters' houses. This is the main reason why Serendra, as pretty and clean as it may be, will always seem fake - because it's an elitist hang-out that is willfully ignorant of the third world realities beyond its well-lighted store-fronts and privileged society.
Aside from the Ayalas and their Serendra, the other major developer of urban entertainment areas is Andrew Tan and his Eastwood City and Resorts World. They are literally miniature cities with residential high-rises, a large shopping center (the focal point of the "life" of the "city"), casinos, hotels, cinemas, theaters, and even chapels. To illustrate the fake factor in these developments, I will talk about a single feature that Eastwood City has. It has, I am ashamed to write, its own local version of the "Hollywood" walk of fame of Filipino actors. It's not just the second-rate, try-hard copycat-ness that's pathetically disturbing, but the fact that no one cares. In a country that's probably only the second American celebrity-obssessed next to America, shoppers and passers-by continually step over these "stars" not giving thema second glance, let alone a second thought. It's all for show.
This is the main spirit of corporate-developed urban centers. Forced. Cheap. Disconnected. Completely imitative. Gaudy. Unabashed. Pathetic.