This blog post is part of the Everyday Destinations series, which focuses on increasing physical activity in small and rural communities through everyday destinations. Start your journey here.
Mixed-use development is an alternative to single-use zoning. It places multiple uses within a site, such as street-level retail with residential units above (vertical mixed use), or co-locates uses within a designated area, such as neighborhoods that offer residential, commercial, and civic spaces within walking distance (horizontal mixed use).
This development approach varies from Euclidian zoning, where land uses are separated into distinct zones. The mix of different uses makes it possible for people to live near everyday destinations, and thus, makes it more viable for them to engage in physical activity.
Mixed-use development provides a variety of environmental, economic, social, and health benefits that can align with existing community priorities, including increasing physical activity. Zoning regulations can be used to mitigate land-use compatibility concerns within mixed-use development while accommodating multiple desirable destinations.
Further, this type of development can reflect desired community characteristics by adopting community-driven design standards. Design standards may be adopted for infill development within mixed-use districts while protecting structures that predate new regulations.
To implement mixed-use development, it is important to engage community members from the beginning of a project. This process is key to identifying areas for mixed-use developments, distributing benefits equitably, and finding local priorities for spaces that permit multiple uses (Nelson 2012).
Mixed-use projects can support nonvehicular access to destinations, increase economic opportunity, improve the variety of housing options, and create residential spaces that are supported by a network of services.
In cases where mixed-use development includes public investments, mixed-use developments can help ensure equitable distribution of benefits from public investments by providing housing for community members with lower incomes and incorporate measures to avoid displacing current residents and businesses. In cases of private developments, communities can adopt requirements that encourage equitable access to destinations at different price points.
Rental prices may increase in some areas with higher amounts of mixed land use, perhaps due to preferences among renters for shorter commutes and shopping trips, as well as access to retail (Kim and Jin 2019). If these preferences are present in a community, renters (both residential and commercial) may encounter a higher cost of living and potentially be displaced.
A variety of mitigation efforts, such as affordable housing requirements and increasing access to business loans, can increase housing accessibility, small business viability, and inclusion for residents from different income levels (U.S. EPA 2013). This is particularly useful for communities interested in encouraging residents to age in place, as mixed-use development can appeal to community members of all ages (U.S. EPA 2012).
Mixed-Use Developments: Street-level retail spaces with residential units above support a network of connected everyday destinations. Source: Grant/flickr.com (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). North Main Street - Princeton, Illinois.
Connection to Small and Rural Towns
In small and rural communities, striking a balance between the preservation of local assets and diversifying land uses can create compact, walkable spaces that benefit all community members. Mixed-use developments can have positive impacts on economic, social, health, and environmental conditions.
Mixed-use districts are desirable for both community members and businesses because they provide convenient access to destinations. Community members may choose to walk, bike, or roll to destinations within compact mixed-use districts, which can positively impact community health. These districts can enhance walking conditions by providing clean sidewalks and pedestrian amenities, such as street trees and benches.
Mixed-use districts may also positively impact community health by increasing social cohesion through greater interaction among community members (Design for Health 2008), a valuable impact in small and rural communities where residents may live in remote locations.
Economic impacts include increased economic activity and demand for residential and commercial locations in town centers, reduced infrastructure needs (e.g., using existing utility delivery systems instead of expanding network), and limited service expenses (in comparison to costs for single-use developments), such as access to emergency services.
Environmental benefits range from the preservation of open space to reductions in air pollution because of fewer vehicle miles traveled, which can align with small-town and rural priorities for the preservation of natural areas and better air quality.
Case Example: Missoula, Montana
Missoula, Montana, incorporated a variety of mixed-use strategies to encourage affordability as part of the Sxwtpayen Area Neighborhoods Master Plan, formerly called the Mullan Area Master Plan. The plan adopts an "Equity in Land Use" tool, which requires projects to include "a mix of building and unit types." It describes mixed-use centers that contain workplaces, shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues, as well as plans to develop a new neighborhood school.
The plan emphasizes connected community areas that are safe for pedestrians and bikers, which can increase levels of physical activity. Further, the plan identifies public engagement recommendations that consider transit options and design features, such as outdoor seating and wide sidewalks, that encourage active living.
In conjunction with a mixed-use community vision, the plan seeks to advance mixed-income neighborhoods through an affordable housing land trust, increasing the amount of mixed-use housing stock, and identifying opportunities to create "missing middle" housing or developments with multiple residential units that are compatible with single-family housing.
The plan recognizes the value of providing options for residents who would like to scale up or down within the same neighborhood, which increases opportunities for residents at different life stages and income levels. It complements a housing policy adopted by the city in 2019, A Place to Call Home: Meeting Missoula's Housing Needs, which reduces barriers for affordable housing developments and provides financial incentives to increase mixed-income housing options.
The plan works in conjunction with the Missoula County & City of Missoula Mullan Area Traditional Neighborhood Development Form-Based Code, which establishes design requirements across built environment zones of different physical and social characteristics, including a Mixed-Use Center Transect Zone.
Strategic Points of Intervention
Practitioners have a variety of options to help their communities encourage mixed-use developments. This section provides a non-exhaustive list of strategies that professionals with the ability to influence the built environment can use to improve access to everyday destinations. Collaboration between these professionals and public health is crucial as public health professionals can support planning approaches and engage partners but may not have the authority to implement some of the strategies identified below.
This blog encourages communication and engagement between public health and planners to discuss approaches that might be applicable in their community. For more information on the role of public health professionals in helping implement these strategies, click here. For more information on other partners that play a role in implementing the growth area identification approach, click here.
The following list of strategies can help professionals from different sectors come together and implement planning approaches that support a mix of accessible everyday destinations. Community engagement is crucial throughout every step of implementing the strategies below.
Planners and public health professionals can collaborate to create equitable engagement to collect and act on community needs. Communities should select the strategies based on their context and constraints. The links at the end of actions provide more guidance materials and examples from small and rural towns across the country.
Community Visioning and Goal Setting
- Define areas suitable for mixed-use development as part of a community vision process (Williston 2020).
- Provide opportunities for elected officials, community members, and community partners to learn more about mixed-use development benefits through outreach activities (Nelson 2012).
- Create opportunities to educate decision makers about potential unintended consequences of mixed-use development, such as displacement, and inform them about anti-displacement strategies available to mitigate adverse impacts.
- Conduct community interviews and visioning sessions to identify local priorities that support mixed-use development, such as improved business vitality or increased proximity to destinations (Benicia 2007).
- Determine whether vertical or horizontal mixed-use development types, or a combination of both, align best with community goals (Newport Beach 2006).
- Encourage consistency between new and existing mixed-use ordinances, adopted plans, and design guidelines (Fremont 2018). This approach reduces conflicting guidance and ensures that community documents support accessible destinations.
- Evaluate characteristics of preexisting buildings and new developments. This information can be used to create design guidelines that mitigate significant alterations to existing conditions (Benicia 2007).
- Present coordinated policies and actions to increase connectivity between mixed-use development areas (Sandy Springs 2017). These recommendations can be accompanied by community data that illustrate the need for accessible everyday destinations, such as a lack of grocery stores and green space within a 15-minute walk, to support walkable pedestrian-oriented design.
- Identify performance standards that support mixed-use development while protecting existing community assets (Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission 2014).
Regulations and Incentives
- Bring together municipal departments responsible for building and site code enforcement to enhance mixed-use elements and destination connectivity in proposed development plans (Richards 2014).
- Provide design guidelines that encourage developers to implement mixed-use development as defined in community plans. Design guidelines can share examples of successful projects, outline potential strategies, and ensure that the community's vision translates to development projects (Chesapeake 2007, Fremont 2008, Sunnyvale 2015).
- Create opportunities for mixed-use development through joint or co-development of property in areas suitable for development, such as developments near transit stations.
- Require mixed-use development that creates accessible everyday destinations when issuing requests for proposals (RFPs) for development of publicly owned properties.
- Create opportunities for public-private partnerships to advance mixed-use development, such as developments on publicly owned, privately developed property near transit stations.
- Provide financial support to encourage affordable housing units within mixed-use developments (U.S. EPA 2015), such as through community grants, dedicated financing streams, and capital improvement projects.
- Connect funding options from different sources, such as Community Development Block Grant Program and municipal funding (U.S. HUD n.d.)
Communities have active organizations, leaders, and professionals that can contribute to implementing the strategies provided in the previous section. Built environment and public health professionals should consider, and if applicable, reach out to the following groups to implement mixed-use developments. These groups can also recommend other organizations that may be able to collaborate.
The following nonexhaustive list of partners offers potential starting points — there may be more partners to consider, depending on the community.
- Engage community members and community organizations to determine needs and preferences for mixed-use developments.
- Connect with developers to understand barriers and opportunities for implementing mixed-use projects.
- Collaborate with community institutions and services organizations to identify opportunities for mixed-use projects, such as projects that combine libraries and affordable housing to provide benefits to community members and local partners (McCormick 2019).
- Gather input from business owners and representative groups regarding needs and wants for proposed mixed-use corridors or areas.
- Work with transit authorities to connect plans for mixed-use areas with potential transit investments, such as improvements to commuter rail.
- Develop relationships with local housing authorities and stable-housing advocates to encourage mixed-income, mixed-use developments.
- Partner with transportation agencies to identify how mixed-use development may impact transportation systems, such as roadways and transit demand.
- Involve environmental health professionals to ensure that mixed-use developments lead to healthy private and public spaces.
We are interested in case examples that support physical activity through everyday destinations in communities with a population less than 20,000 people. If you are aware of such communities, please share their stories with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. By directing us to such articles you can help other small and rural communities become more active and healthier.
Read this post and visit the Everyday Destinations project page for background information, additional context, and overarching considerations that support creating great communities for all.
Benicia (California), City of. 2007. Downtown Mixed-Use Master Plan.
Chesapeake (Virginia), City of. 2007. Design Guidelines for the City of Chesapeake.
Design For Health. 2008. "Planning Information Sheet: Building Social Capital with Comprehensive Planning and Ordinances." University of Minnesota.
Duvall (Washington), City of. "Chapter 14.22: Old Town—Mixed Use (OT) Zoning District." Code of Ordinances.
Greensboro (North Carolina), City of, and Guilford County. 2009. Downtown Area Consolidated Plan.
Fremont (California), City of. 2008. Summary of Centerville Design Guidelines.
Hillsborough County (Florida) City-County Planning Commission. 2014. "Promoting Mixed-Use Development." Case Study Memo, Policy Update for Mixed-Use Development.
Kim, Danya, and Jangik Jin. 2019. "The Effect of Land Use on Housing Price and Rent: Empirical Evidence of Job Accessibility and Mixed Land Use." Sustainability 11(3): 938.
Lund, Hollie. 2002. "Pedestrian Environments and Sense of Community." Journal of Planning Education and Research 21(3): 301–12.
McCormick, Kathleen. 2019. "A New Chapter: Cities Are Tackling the Housing Crunch—by Building Above the Library." Land Lines, September 27. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
Missoula (Montana), City of, Office of Housing & Community Development. 2019. A Place to Call Home: Meeting Missoula's Housing Needs.
Missoula County and Missoula (Montana), City of. 2020a. Mullan Area Neighborhoods Master Plan.
———. 2020b. Mullan Area Traditional Neighborhood Development Form-Based Code.
Nelson, Kevin. 2012. Essential Smart Growth Fixes for Rural Planning, Zoning, and Development Codes. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Richards, Lynn. 2014. "Putting People First: 10 Steps Toward Pedestrian-Friendly Suburbs Additional Resources." Land Lines, July.
Sandy Spring (Georgia), City of. 2017. The Next Ten Comprehensive Plan.
Sunnyvale (California), City of. 2015. Toolkit for Mixed-Use Development.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). n.d. "HOME Project Profiles: Cornelius Place, Washington County."
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2012. Smart Growth and Economic Success: Benefits For Real Estate Developers, Investors, Businesses, And Local Governments.
———. 2013. Creating Equitable, Healthy, And Sustainable Communities: Strategies for Advancing Smart Growth, Environmental Justice, And Equitable Development.
———. 2015. Smart Growth Self-Assessment for Rural Communities.
Walters, Jerry, Brian Bochner, and Reid Ewing. 2013. "Getting Trip Generation Right: Eliminating the Bias Against Mixed Use Development." PAS Memo, May/June. American Planning Association.
Williston (Vermont), Town of. 2020. 2016–2024 Comprehensive Plan.
———. 2019. "Chapter 37: Mixed Use Commercial Zoning District." Williston Unified Development Bylaw.
Active People, Healthy Nation
Active People, Healthy NationSM is a national initiative led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help 27 million Americans become more physically active by 2027. Increased physical activity can improve health, quality of life, and reduce health care costs.
Top Image: Randy von Liski/flickr.com (CC by NC-ND 2.0). N. Main Street, Bloomington, Illinois.
About the Authors
Jo Peña is a research associate with APA.
Sagar Shah is a planning and community health manager with APA.