Some real estate terms are easily understood: single-family residence, down payment, property tax. However, most real estate jargon is exceedingly difficult to parse out; for example, “mixed-use development” is a phrase that continues to baffle buyers in and around big cities. If your agent throws around this term like a broken record, you will undoubtedly benefit by learning more about this unique type of real estate.
What Is Mixed-Use?
Simple enough, “mixed-use development” means a building (or neighborhood) that accommodates both commercial and residential properties. The easiest example is the prototypical New York block, with bodegas below and apartments above, but in truth, mixed-use development brings together spaces for home, work, and play to create a one-stop community destination.
Indeed, the most easily recognized style of mixed-use development is the vertical category, which comprises different uses in a single building. Typically, lower floors are for public use, like a retail store, while upper floors are for private use, like apartments or hotel rooms. In a city like New York, entire neighborhoods are made of various vertical mixed-use buildings.
However, horizontal mixed-use blocks also exist. In this case, various single-use buildings are combined on a single block, providing residents and visitors with complementary services within a walkable distance. Often, the buildings share utilities and amenities, to the benefit of everyone. Sometimes, developers with enough space will opt for the horizontal style to avoid the hassle of coding for different layers in a vertical mixed-use building.
How Has Mixed-Use Changed?
Most of the misunderstandings concerning mixed-use development are due to the changing legal landscape surrounding them. In the past, most cities required buildings to have a primary use ― say residential ― which controls the building’s configuration, disposition, and other qualities. Additional services provided in a building ― say, a retail store or commercial offices ― would be a secondary use that is highly restricted in its capacity to function due to the residential restraints. In other cities, a landowner in a mixed-use zone was able to choose a specific use for his or her land, but his or her property was merely single-use in a zone with a variety of developments.
Today, mixed-use development is much more simple, which is why most real estate developers in densely populated cities are eager to produce more mixed-use buildings. However, buyers and renters have much to gain from mixed-use living spaces, as well.
Why Is Mixed-Use Popular?
Nearly every generation, from Baby Boomers to millennials, is clamoring for more mixed-use development ― even if they don’t realize it. According to a study by the National Association of Realtors, the demand for walkable neighborhoods is increasing, and mixed-use development is the obvious solution to this need.
Though single-family, detached homes are convenient in many ways ― particularly when it comes to personal space and privacy ― they also must be placed farther from necessities and luxuries, like shopping malls and bars as well as grocery stores and gyms. Using a car or public transportation to get to these places takes time and resources many people would rather not spend. If your kids can safely walk to school every morning, you can wake up later and save money on gas.
Moreover, it seems that walkable neighborhoods tend to have healthier inhabitants. According to one study, adults in walkable cities are at least 31 percent less likely to be obese or overweight. The ability to walk to various destinations increases physical fitness; people who walk their cities usually get much closer to 10,000 steps per day, thereby strengthening leg muscles, improving cardiovascular function, and burning fat. Plus, the more people walk, the less they rely on automobiles, reducing emissions that destroy the environment and hurt human health.
Unfortunately, most regional governments have historic barriers against the creation of walkable cities. Originally, these restrictive laws were meant to increase public health by separating harmful industrial buildings from residential zones, which is largely an unnecessary concern nowadays. Yet, the National Resources Defense Council, the Congress for the New Urbanism, the U.S. Green Building Council, and others are working to overcome these outdated laws with its LEED for Neighborhood Development program, which makes zoning and regulation for mixed-use development much easier for local governments.
Some people may find some disadvantages to mixed-use development. A person who hates curry might abhor living directly over an Indian restaurant, or a mother of young chilren might want to avoid an apartment over a raucous nightclub. Additionally, as explained above, plenty of older mixed-use buildings add residential or commercial space as an afterthought, which can impact functionality. Still, mixed-use developments are only increasing in vogue, and living in a community full of opportunities to live, work, and play usually has more benefits than drawbacks.