Mixed-use Developments: Are they making a comeback?

We explore the history of mixed-used developments for work and living, and explore how and why they might be making a comeback. 

A Clear Separation

Urban life in the last one hundred years has been defined by the clear separation of where we live and work. Cities, for the most part, are clearly divided into residential and commercial areas. We live in one part of the city, and travel to a different part to get to our offices and workplaces.

This, for the most part, made sense with the advent of the industrial revolution. Separating residential and industrial areas was the right thing to do. Industrial areas were noisy, and polluted, and often unsafe. With the end of the cottage industry era, people were working from home, or in the fields, less and less, and moving instead into factories and the offices that sprung up around them. 

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Industrial areas were noisy, and polluted, housing was kept separate. Image by Veeterzy.

In the 19th, and into the 20th century, moving people into specially planned and designed residential areas improved their quality of life immensely. It took them out of polluted, unsafe and often disease-ridden industrial areas into somewhere that was quieter, and often greener too.

This separation of work and home continued into the 21st century. Today, most of our cities are still clearly divided into residential and commercial areas. What we might be witnessing now, however, is another revolution in where we work, and one which will potentially transform our cities in a way unprecedented since the industrial revolution last did.

The Problems

Many of the problems facing urban centres currently are, in part, due to this extreme separation of where we live and work. Traffic, congestion and the consequent pollution is, for the most part, caused by large numbers of people travelling every day from where they live, to where they work, and then home again at the end of the day. The separation is causing gridlock in our cities, and more roads, wider roads and increased numbers of bicycle lanes are just a stop gap solution. The real issue is with our city planning. 

Cities are also facing a housing shortage, which in turn is exacerbating a housing crisis. Increased demand for urban housing, is pushing up prices beyond the reach of increasing numbers of city residents and creating a huge issue in terms of the future of cities. At the same time, due to events created by Covid-19 and recent shifts in how we work, cities are facing a glut of office space and buildings. 

With increasing numbers of people working from home, or working remotely, the demand for office space is down. This means empty office developments that could have another use, if we are willing to think outside the box, when it comes to planning how we plan to live and work in the future. It makes no sense for buildings to sit empty when there is such a need for more quality housing options. And a growing need for more communal spaces to bring people together. 

The Solution

One possibility to explore is the development of mixed use buildings and spaces, that incorporate residential and working spaces, as well as communal and community spaces. This will take city planning into a new direction, one which will once again merge our residential and work spaces without compromising on our quality of life. In fact, in the process we might actually find a better way to live. 

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Smart city planning is the solution. Image by Chuttersnap.

There are no quick fixes. Repositioning office spaces to incorporate living spaces, will take time and a great deal of forward thinking. And it will take time for city planners to catch up as well. Creating mixed use complexes involves more than simply adding housing to office spaces. It will require a great deal of input from governments, on a whole country, as well as municipality level. It will also require cooperation between property developers and owners, driven by a commitment to change. It will also require an understanding of what urban dwellers currently want from their housing and work places. 

This transformation has the potential to ensure that we are all much better connected. Blurring the lines between work, home and play is often viewed as a negative thing. In a society where we are all struggling with our work-life balance, adding housing to offices and vice versa can seem, initially, like a bad idea.

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Commitment to change, blurring the lines between living and working spaces. Image by Austin Distel.

Co-living, leading the way

This isn’t the case however. Co-living, as one example, has shown that the combining of work and housing spaces meets the needs of a younger population (including growing numbers of young professionals) who are looking for a more flexible way to work. They don’t want to commute, they want the option to work remotely, but they still want to be able to interact and connect with like-minded individuals. Coworking spaces are hives of innovation and creativity, and include many of the benefits of a traditional office space (fully furnished, fully set up) without the hassle. People want to be able to move seamlessly between home and work, and mixed-use developments help them do this. 

At Vonder we understand the need to transform the current landscape when it comes to how we live, work and play. Our evolved approach to co-living, with co-living locations in London, Berlin, and Warsaw, combines quality living spaces (with private kitchens and bathroom, fully-furnished for hassle-free move in), coworking spaces and other great communal amenities (gym, private cinema, rooftop terrace, game room). 

There are still many unknowns when it comes to how our cities will look in the future. But what is clear, is that expectations of what they should look like will involve much greater demand for mixed-use developments, potentially benefiting all urban residents in the process.  

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