By Rand Harder, NCARB, LEED AP Emerging from the lockdown we’ve all had a lot of time to reflect on our priorities in life and perhaps even shuffle around a few of them. Designers have noticed customers’ priorities have evolved, with more emphasis on meeting friends, slowing down, celebrating, and a newfound appreciation to be surprised and delighted.  At the same time, developers have used this as an opportunity to assess trends that are emerging, and over the course of this five-part series, we will walk you through five primary categories that they fall under:
These ideas have been rising to the forefront for a while, but COVID was the impetus that enhanced the reassessment of our lifestyles. Trends for every component of mixed-use developments have gone through reconsideration and these new priorities and the individual impacts on each component should be considered within the overall mixed-use development. We will break down these trends within the mixed-use components of retail, housing, office, hospitality, restaurants, and entertainment venues; exploring the synergy of how these new trends may work together to create new mixed-use experiences.

Emerging trend number 1: Development is no longer in a phase of unlimited expansion but rather in finding ways to infill the missing pieces within communities.  

At times in the past, retail expansion contributed to the suburban sprawl that hurt main streets, and with zoning laws that isolated uses, both inadvertently damaged many communities. Recently, our mixed-use developments have been neutral by creating exciting new town centers that sometimes enhance the surrounding communities and sometimes detract from them. Going forward, mixed-use developments have an opportunity to ‘heal’ and infill many of those same communities. Retail has evolved to where it is unusual to see just retail in a green field. It is rare to see new retail developments without at least some aspect of mixed-use, whether that includes one component or a combination of components like food venues, hospitality, housing, office, or entertainment venues. The next step in the evolution of these mixed-use developments is that they must address the context, regardless of whether it is in an urban, suburban, or rural setting. They must address the communities’ needs with a mix of uses that will support the specific environment and, just as importantly, support the development itself; acting as a ‘terrarium’ in that is self-sustaining. Office, hotel, hospitality, and housing not only densify the site and increase revenue but provide directly adjacent customers for retail, restaurants, and entertainment venues. Links to other adjacent communities/developments will only enhance the opportunity for revenue. These mixes, of course, need to be scalable depending on the communities’ size and needs. Our company is working on many fronts to balance public and private partnerships that lead enhancing a development’s profits and the health of the community. This feels like a tipping point for meshing the private commercial economy with the past main streets it replaced. We are in the process of developing such a site in an urban, medium-sized market. In this case, the communities’ needs are complicated by the complexity of the site directly adjacent to a major state highway; with a traditional affluent neighborhood on one side and a major college campus on the other. Both communities have current needs that aren’t fully met and the opportunity to pull in additional traffic from the freeway is too lucrative to pass up. This provides a complex and unique context that demands a solution that appeals to a diverse customer base with enticing, flexible, and evolving options for retail, food, and entertainment. Why would we do this additional complex work? As most companies are committing to climate change initiatives and the corresponding requirements pertaining to responsible development, we must also respond as the composite of those tenants. A sophisticated customer base is demanding environmentally responsible actions from brands and individual retailers. Large scale boycotts and shifting customer loyalties to brands can quickly affect the bottom lines of even well-established companies. The public viewpoint, accelerated by social media like TikTok, is constantly reacting and rating retailers and retail properties overall. The timeframe for assessing and aggressively responding to whole mixed-use developments and determining their impact on the community, whether positive or negative, is increasing in pace. It is easier for a single brand to react and correct course in order to comply with customer demands in that regard. All of this sounds scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Mixed-use developments need to find ways to be more nimble, flexible, and capable of evolution. Over our next four blogs, trends 2 – 5 will explore a variety of ways to accomplish those goals, but you can connect with Progressive AE to discuss any of these topics at any time!