mixed-use development

Most zoning policies were initially designed to separate incompatible land uses, like slaughterhouses and apartments.  Changes to the American economy have led to commercial uses that are more compatible with housing.  Most business and retail enterprises today can easily co-exist with residential units without causing any discomfort or hardship. In fact, the inclusion of residential uses in commercial districts (or vice versa) may be an appealing development strategy, both in high-end neighborhoods where residents want the convenience of amenities at their doorstep, and in revitalizing areas, where mixed-use development can improve vitality, enhance safety by increasing "eyes on the street" around the clock and create a desirable walkable neighborhood that can attract new residents.

Mixed-use development can be structured on an individual building scale (traditionally as ground floor commercial or office space with residential units above), on a neighborhood scale through a mix of residential, retail and/or commercial buildings in proximity to one another and/or through development of live-work spaces that combine studio or office space and living space in a single unit. All offer opportunities to increase the supply of homes available to working families, particularly when implemented in tandem with an inclusionary zoning strategy or density bonus that encourages or requires a share of newly developed units to be affordable to working families.

Mixed-use development also gives residents the opportunity to use their automobiles less frequently by making it possible to walk to shops and other services. This independence may be particularly attractive to older adults who wish to maintain an independent lifestyle when they are no longer able or interested in driving. When mixed-use districts are established near public transit centers - a strategy known as transit-oriented development - pedestrian access to these amenities is further improved.  (Learn more about how mixed-use and transit-oriented development can help to reduce transportation costs and energy consumption.)

Addressing community concerns: Objections to mixed-use development are generally related to concerns about increases in traffic and parking congestion, reduced property values and undesirable changes in the
Solutions in Action
Bookmark Apartments
Photo credit: Fred Wilson

The Bookmark Apartments
, in the Hollywood District of Portland Oregon, combines in one building a public library, café and 47 apartments, 19 of which are affordable to low-income households earning up to 60 percent of the area median income.

Visit the Gallery to learn more about Bookmark Apartments and other mixed-use housing developments.
character of the community. With careful planning, attractive design and
proper traffic calming measures, however, these outcomes can be avoided. Traffic congestion may actually be lessened with mixed-use development, as fewer households need to get in the car to reach local shops and recreation destinations.

Obstacles to development:
Communities do not typically prohibit residential or commercial development, but many jurisdictions have zoning policies that rigidly segregate these uses into separate districts, a type of land use regulation known as Euclidean zoning. By establishing an overlay district, planned unit development or other "form-based" approach to zoning that permits and encourages a combination of uses (i.e., allowing residential uses in a commercial district), or changing the underlying zoning altogether, communities can reduce or avoid overly strict limitations on development.

Click on the links below to learn more about other types of housing that can help communities meet the needs of households with a range of preferences and budgets:

Multifamily/attached homes, which may include apartment buildings, condominiums, town homes, row houses and duplexes.

"Factory-built" homes, from manufactured homes built entirely in production facilities to modular housing that is assembled on-site.

Accessory dwelling units within or attached to a larger single-family home, or on the same lot.

Mixed-use housing, where residential units co-exist with commercial and retail enterprises.

Single-room occupancies, also called efficiency apartments and residential studio units.

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Revise zoning policies to allow development of a range of housing types "as of right"
Greater housing diversity and affordability may be achieved by revising zoning policies to eliminate both direct and "back door" prohibitions and explicitly allow a range of housing types, rather than requiring a special review process or disallowing certain types of structures entirely.

Other pages in this section:

Providence WalkConsider other innovative land use regulations that facilitate delivery of lower-cost homes
Local officials can implement an array of land use tools to create a regulatory environment that is hospitable to the development of homes affordable to working families.

Click here to view other resources on policies that allow housing diversity.