Mixed use development – not just for big cities anymore

by Robin LeBlanc | Sep 18th, 2017 | Leave a comment

by Robert Duval, President, TF Moran.

One significant trend in land development projects these days is towards “mixed-use development”, that is, an integrated mixture of residential, commercial, cultural, institutional, or industrial uses in close proximity. Recently seen primarily in large urban centers, the concept of mixed-use development is now moving into smaller cities and towns across New England.

The advantages of integrated development can be substantial. Among other benefits, traffic volumes, parking needs, and stormwater flows can all be reduced by taking advantage of the interaction between related uses. For example, apartments and offices located in close proximity will tend to reduce vehicle trips because some tenants will be employees of the office; thus, some of the vehicle trips usually expected become pedestrian trips. Likewise, parking inventory can also be reduced through shared parking. Using the same example, peak apartment parking demand falls outside of regular business hours, thus fewer total spaces can be provided for the same amount of development.

Also, where multiple properties can be combined into a single development, greater land use density can be achieved by avoiding internal lot line setbacks. This results in more efficient parking layouts and elimination of unnecessary pavement, further reducing needed land area, construction costs, and the burden of excess runoff on stormwater infrastructure.

Landscape Architecture plays a significant role in making mixed-use development work. First of all, each building must be placed so that it allows convenient, safe, and attractive pedestrian connections between all other major uses. It is generally taken that “walking distance” in New England is approximately 1400 feet or about a 7 minute walk. This is largely dependent on establishing a clear, direct path and an attractive walking environment. Of course, the concept of mixed-use development is not new – many of us remember when it was simply called “downtown”.

Today, more community planners understand the benefits of mixed-use development and revitalizing city centers, particularly older, under-utilized manufacturing or commercial areas. As more communities embrace mixed-use development in their zoning codes, we can expect this healthy trend to accelerate, returning a large measure of prosperity and vibrancy to New England cities and towns.