A Brief History of Mixed-Use Developments

A Brief History of Mixed-Use Developments

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Today, it is common to come across mixed-use developments – a single building in which you can live, work and play. The fact that this idea has been driven by communications technology, leading to the development of complex and modern buildings, may lead one into thinking that it came up recently. However, the concept and development of mixed-use spaces are as old as humanity.

Early times

Generally speaking, for any property to qualify as a mixed-use development, it must comprise of at least three revenue-producing uses. These include residential, office, retail, manufacturing, parking, hotel, community, religious and entertainment.

The Medieval times saw the development of villages that not only promoted functional and productive communities but also satisfied all the rules of mixed-use development. A village in the medieval times would be located on a hill, with a wall surrounding the settlement. As such, walls with a small circumference meant a densely populated village. As opposed to when the property was spread out over vast tracts of land, having them close together helped to make the village more secure.

The Medieval Village

With time, the population within the villages grew, increasing the density within the walls. It was only when the villages could no longer support further growth that new ramparts were constructed. Construction of these villages had to take into account compactness, density, mixed uses and limited transportation systems.

Growth of cities

The principles of a mixed-use community carried on, even as cities emerged from medieval villages. As populations swelled, local governments in America sought to promote the health and welfare of citizens by mandating the segregation of use.


Zoning was first used in New York, in 1916. This was at a time when the local government was keen on controlling development. Under this concept, the local government was granted police powers by the government, giving it the right to regulate the development of private property.

Ambler v. Village of Euclid, Ohio

Ambler Realty Company had a piece of their land down-zoned. Initially, the industrial ground was valued at $10,000 for every acre. However, when it was down-zoned to residential, the value came down to $2500 per acre at the time. Although the company sued in 1926, the US Supreme Court upheld the case, effectively validating the concept of zoning. This further gave rise to the concept of Euclidian zoning, where land use was divided into different distinct areas. The concept was adopted by local governments and became important in deciding how and where towns grew.

At least three uses mean large scale

While small-scale mixed-use projects can be developed, such projects are usually over 100,000 square feet. Any mixed-use development must:

  • Be developed in line with a clear plan
  • Include significant components. The facilities should serve more than just site convenience
  • Be pedestrian friendly

Some great examples of mixed-use developments are Cleveland Union Terminal (opened in 1930), now called Tower City Center. There is also Rockefeller Center (built in 1931), West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada, and Baltimore’s Renaissance Harborplace.

When developing mixed-use projects, there must be adequate parking and pedestrian-friendly connections to allow people to walk from one product type to another. This means that mixed-use developments are more communities than buildings.

Since mixed-use developments are expensive, you should be mindful of competing products, demographics and size of the market. This will help you avoid common mistakes that compromise the success of such projects. Rather than forcing mixed-use development, you should get both the property and market right. You should also get mixed-use professionals involved to help increase your chances of succeeding.

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