Mixed-Use Development in Theory and Practice: Learning from Atlanta's Mixed Experiences
Herndon, Joshua D.
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Over the past several decades, mixed-use development has taken center stage in the urban planning and real estate development worlds. Whether it is the Congress for the New Urbanism, Smart Growth, the Compact City, or any other movement relating to the improvement of the built environment, mixing land uses is a ubiquitous component of the underlying visions and ideals. Moreover, the concept is being embraced by both the public and private sectors, and by each of the major parties involved in the real estate development process: the end users who demand space; the developers, investors, and financial institutions that supply space; and the planners and policy makers that regulate space. The reasons for the resurgence of mixed-use development are many. Among other things, traffic congestion, increasing gasoline prices, changing consumer demographics, and a longing for the sense of place and community that too many American cities lack, are all likely contributing factors. In addition, city planners are embracing the idea of mixing uses because of its potential to reduce automobile dependence, support public transit, combat sprawl, preserve open space, promote economic development, and limit the expense of providing and maintaining infrastructure in low density environments. Furthermore, developers have increasingly proposed mixed-use developments to adapt projects to infill locations, gain access to greater densities, respond to changing consumer demands, and capitalize on the synergies created by the integration of complementary uses (Rabianski, 2009). However, despite the widespread support that mixed-use development has recently garnered, its acceptance is not universal. Many people, especially residents of suburban areas, see the reemergence of mixed land uses as a threat to their communities and believe that “greater density in suburban areas threatens [their] social and economic attractiveness” (Kotkin, 2010). Consequently, an interesting situation has arisen in which mixed-use development is simultaneously seen by some as a panacea for the problems facing American cities and by others as a direct assault on the American dream. Sorting the fact from the fiction and developing an in-depth understanding of both the possibilities and the limits of mixed-use development are essential if the positive aspects of the concept are to be maximized. Doing so requires the following questions to be considered: How has the arrangement of land uses changed over time? What are the necessary characteristics of a mixed-use development? What are the different ways of conceptualizing mixed-use projects? What are the goals of mixed-use development? What are the unique challenges associated with mixed-use projects? And what are the primary lessons should be learned from our experiences with mixed-use development to date?