Mixed-use developments are hot news right now. For many urban planners, architects and city residents they are the future of our cities, and for good reason.
Mixed-use developments combine residential, commercial and leisure spaces and facilities within one development, or several developments within one complex or site. Their growth and increase in popularity lies in part to changing urban needs, and in recognition of their ability to combine everything an urban resident might need to live their life within one place. Just pulling ideas off the top of our head - they eliminate stressful commutes, make urban spaces more accessible to everyone, and contribute to a better standard of living for the communities they serve and grow within. There are many, many more reasons for what makes them so great, and many reasons for why they are having their moment now, but this is the essence of their popularity.
They represent an approach to urban planning that represents not only the importance of accessibility and quality of life - but which accepts that dividing the areas where a person’s life is lived in vastly different parts of the city, is not conducive to truly meaningful and enjoyable city living.
The main types
Within mixed-use development there are two widely-recognized main types - vertical and horizontal. Both have their own roles to play in the future of urban planning, and both have their own pros and cons. Essentially it all comes down to usage and the community they are serving, as to which works best.
Horizontal mixed-use developments refers to those where each building has a designated use, generally a single-use, within a complex or development filled with buildings each with their own assigned use. The complex may contain, for example, a residential building, an office building, and a building for shopping and dining. It may also include parks, green spaces and possibly sports facilities within the complex. This kind of mixed-use development will often contain a number of private spaces (homes and offices) and public spaces accessible to all (parks, playgrounds and green or blue spaces). These are ideal for cities with space to spare, and the ability to create high-quality and usable public spaces around the buildings. They can be incredibly important for increasing accessibility and equality within a city too.
An example of a horizontal mixed-use development is the Monopolis Project in Lodz, currently Poland’s third largest city. The project will sit on the site of an old vodka factory, dating back to the start of the 20th century. It is also an example of how mixed-use developments can be used to rejuvenate and revive areas of a city that have fallen out of use. This new development will include offices, shops, as well as restaurants, cafes and wine bars, a theatre, spaces for children, an art gallery and museum too. The reasoning behind it, is as with many horizontal mixed-use developments, the creation of a city within a city.
Vertical mixed-use developments have multiple uses. Each floor of a vertical mixed-use building, for example, may have a different use and purpose. On the ground floor there may be shops and restaurants, followed by commercial offices, and then on the top floors residential units and sometimes hotel rooms as well. Generally however a vertical mixed-use development will also include a central public space - allowing all those who use the building in different ways to come together to build connections and cooperation. They should also prioritize making sure that public accessible spaces are on the lower floors of the building, with more private spaces (such as residential units and hotel rooms) being placed further up. This positioning helps bring life, at a street level, and encourages the development of central public spaces. They may be more popular in urban centres or areas where land is at a premium and land is in short supply.
Both types recognize the need to combine multi-use spaces within the same building or development because of the benefits this brings. Both understand that mixed-use development encourages connection, and relationships and collaboration. Both bring new life to existing neighbourhoods and communities. Importantly also both re-emphasize the importance and centrality of community to urban life and both serve as important vanguards against social isolation.
The most important thing we need to consider about mixed-use developments is the value they bring to urban dwellers both now and in the future. How they do this is important, but what is more important is why they do this.