Mixed Use Housing – Part 1

Hope Centre in Sooke is an excellent example of mixed-use developments with retail and community space below and housing above.

Hope Centre in Sooke is an excellent example of mixed-use developments with retail and community space below and housing above.

In a two-part series put together by our Housing Development Coordinator, Don Elliott, we examine mixed used housing developments and the opportunities they present in our goal to end homelessness. Also see Mixed Use Housing – Part 2.

Mixed-use development, in a very broad sense is a form of development that can range in scale from a single building to a village development that blends a combination of residential, commercial, cultural, institutional, or industrial uses, where non-traditional and complementary uses are functionally integrated. This variety of uses allows people to live, work, play and shop in one location, which can then become a destination for people from other neighbourhoods and providing more opportunities for social interaction and vibrancy.

Traditional zoning practices typically assigned land uses according to function, meaning homes were segregated from commerce, employment, schools, manufacturing, etc. This separation was to try and protect public health and residential property values from industrial and commercial land uses that were smelly, unsightly, and/or hazardous to community health and well-being. It wasn’t until the 1960s and 70s that mixed-use emerged as a tool for urban revitalization though this development form was generally limited to large-scale redevelopment of blighted or undesirable areas and focused on revenue-producing uses. An example of this could be a single large-scale area redevelopment that includes the functional and physical integration of offices, retail space, and a hotel. All across North America urban renewal (slum clearance) policies functioned in this way.

In the late 1970s and into the 80s the scale of the mixed-use developments began to shrink and become more integrated within their urban contexts. This was in response to the emergence of a strong interest in historic preservation and as residents became more aware of ‘sense of place’ and the value of the small-scale incremental enhancement of neighbourhoods as opposed to large-scale redevelopment.

Mixed-use development underwent a re-emergence in the late 1990s and into the 2000s as more communities began to examine and understand the benefits of development in accordance with the generally accepted principles of Smart Growth and Liveable Communities. In short, mixed-use development at a variety of scales, has been a key tool in the desire for city planners, elected officials and residents to focus on the quality of life and the sustainability of development through reduced auto dependency, enhancements in the pubic realm, supporting growth of social capital and creating more participative planning regimes.

It is generally accepted the benefits from this type of development are:

  1. Activated urban areas during more hours of the day;
  2. Increase in housing options for diverse household types;
  3. Reduced auto dependence;
  4. Increased travel options, and;
  5. Creating/enhancing a local sense of place.

Looking generally at most indicators of a healthy urban environment, mixed-use developments typically rank remarkable high. Too often, however, there is a dearth of research into the benefits of this development typology for everyone, including those marginalized individuals and families that may be experiencing difficulties securing appropriate housing.

Mixed-use development, whether vertically or horizontally integrated, is currently being touted as a means of supporting a range of residents through enhanced affordability. Typically, this would look like a single building with multiple uses stacked vertically and revenue positive portions (either through sale or operating surplus) would cross subsidize another use, e.g. rental accommodation. It could look like different buildings within a single development where revenues cross subsidize deficits (operating or capital) in a way that again takes some of the affordability pressures off of residents.

Undoubtedly, there are significant benefits to mixed-use development but there is still one important question to ask: does mixed-use development benefit everyone, particularly those currently struggling with significant housing affordability issues?

Part two will explore the economics of mixed-use development through the lens of those the most in-need of more affordable and appropriate housing options.

One thought on “Mixed Use Housing – Part 1

  1. Mallory

    Everything is very open with a clear description of the challenges.
    It was really informative. Your site is useful.
    Many thanks for sharing!

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