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Commuting on Foot: Mixed use Trends on the Urban Front
When was the last time you walked to work, to eat, or to play? Conversely, when was the last time you drove? For myself, an urbanite by definition, and like many others in their mid-twenties and thirties, the answer is about how recently you walked.
No longer content with long commutes, or having to always drive between destinations, many people in these generations are flocking to urban environs for the conveniences associated with them. One of the single largest contributing factors to our lifestyle is mixed use development. Shopping, dining, and workplaces accessible by short walks, public transportation, and a density that links them all, are fueling the renewal of existing urban places, and a genesis of new placemaking.
Adding retail to housing
One example: new mid- and high-rise residential developments are often relocating resident-only amenities from their previously common street level locations to floors above or below, and utilizing the ground floor for public retail spaces. The impact is immense for both residents and passersby. In several locations, the retail tenants ultimately become a more attractive amenity than the resident-exclusive ones typically provided, as a tenant can perhaps grab a fresh coffee on the walk to work, and pick up their dry cleaning on the way in at the end of the day. Although this has long been commonplace in major cities, it is new to mid-size cities. Despite the newness, it has already become such a popular trend, that local media often criticize new residential buildings should they forgo retail space, and instead locate “cars behind bars”, gyms, and other private amenities, or at worst, blank walls at ground levels.
One of the single largest contributing factors to our lifestyle is mixed use development. Shopping, dining, and workplaces accessible by short walks, public transportation, and a density that links them all, are fueling the renewal of existing urban places, and a genesis of new placemaking.
Making use of underutilized space
In addition to new residential buildings, the existing commercial property realm has begun to incorporate retail frontage in what has recently been identified as underutilized space. In some cases, office towers from the seventies and eighties are converting back of house storage and loading dock spaces into retail spaces, adding storefronts to what used to be solid walls. This not only activates the street front, but creates retail and dining options for the building users and the public, and creates new rentable square footage within the existing building. Taking it a step further, there have been several instances of owners converting ground floors of parking decks into retail spaces. This seems to hint to another possible trend for increasingly dense urban areas – less vehicular traffic and less need for parking. With the addition of these new retail spaces, secondary streets in the city center that were previously valleys of parking decks, and solid walls, are now becoming thriving veins of retail, restaurants, and bars.
Mixing up the amenities
At the largest scale, developments are incorporating vast mixes of programs including grocery, retail, office, residential, and hotel uses into a single project. Not only are portions of, or even whole city blocks transforming, but entire city corridors are being reshaped. These large-scale projects are rising from what were once surface parking lots into a destination after destination, connected with sidewalks, above-ground walkways and, in some instances, light rail transit.
As urban areas continue to experience this growth and regeneration, those who are present will enjoy the lifestyle afforded by mixed-use development. Regardless of whether it is new construction, or adaptive re-use, small or large, whether you watch from afar, or witness it daily on your walk into the office, mixed-use will continue to not only be omnipresent, but a driving force behind the growth itself.