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Thread: High-density, mixed-use developments

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    High-density, mixed-use developments

    Folks-

    The municipality in which I live has begun approving high-density, mixed-use developments (as have most of the surrounding municipalities). All of these follow a similar pattern--retail commercial on the ground floors, residential (condos) above. I understand the rationale behind this--I even agree with the goals. However, it seems to me that there is a fundamental flaw here.

    The people who work in the retail shops will not be able to afford to live in the developments. The people who can afford to live in the developments all work in the high-tech campuses that are out in the "industrial" areas. This means that everybody still has to get up each morning and go somewhere else, and then return each evening! These developments seem to do nothing to reduce traffic.

    It seems to me that, if mixed-use development is to have any impact, the mix must of place of residence and place of work. People go shopping much less often than they go to work.

    So, what do you folks think? Am I missing something obvious? Any response is most welcome.

    --don

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I can't see that you are missing anything too substantive in your analysis. The thoery does not fit the reality.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  3. #3
    Commuting to work makes up only about 25% of all trips. Many more are for shopping, dining, entertainment, etc. Also, about 50% of all trips are 1 mile or less. So a mixed use development, where people substitute a lot of their car trips for walking trips makes sense. Plus you have to start someplace. We can keep on building as we used to - big seperate developments that make everyone have to drive every time they leave the house, or we can build mix use places. Sure many people prefer the former, but many prefer the later as well. In a capitalist economy, we should be providing choice. Its not as if 51% of the population prefers Pepsi, we can't have a company selling Coca Cola.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Are not many of the mixed use developments located on transit lines? Also, are not many of the job locations located on transit lines? I assume by your comments you're probably referring to developments in the South Bay, where transit is generally worse, but as the other posters said - you gotta start somewhere.

    I'm from the area, so any examples that you are referring to I would probably know.

  5. #5
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    I agree. What if there was a way to include shopowners in the apartments earmarked for affordable housing (required for many new developments)?

  6. #6
    Even in the South Bay (I am familiar with the area because I grew up there), one could cut down on the number of auto trips depending on where one lives. For example there are walkable neighborhoods in Campbell, Willow Glen, etc. These areas are also accessible to the light rail system.

    Again, the pont is to begin to lesson the need for cars. To get people to give them up altogether is going to take a lot more effort.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    Thanks for all of the responses!
    [quote ="Gotta Speakup"]Commuting to work makes up only about 25% of all trips.[/quote]Do you know the breakdown of the other types of trips--how does that distribution change if one counts miles, rather than trips?
    you have to start someplace
    I appreciate that--I'm just wondering if this is the best place to start.
    Quote Originally posted by CJC
    any examples that you are referring to I would probably know.
    I didn't want to make this discussion about the worth of specific projects, but two examples of what I am thinking about are Santana Row, and a 490-unit project called "Santa Clara Square," which is still in the early planning stages.
    Although these two developments are on transit lines, they are not on the same transit lines as the high-tech campuses in which these people tend to work. A 20-minute car trip turns into a 2-hour-and-3-bus transit trip.

    The Rivermark development seems more-appropriately located--its at least out in the "industrial" area.

    --don

  8. #8
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by darnoldy View post
    I didn't want to make this discussion about the worth of specific projects, but two examples of what I am thinking about are Santana Row, and a 490-unit project called "Santa Clara Square," which is still in the early planning stages.
    Although these two developments are on transit lines, they are not on the same transit lines as the high-tech campuses in which these people tend to work. A 20-minute car trip turns into a 2-hour-and-3-bus transit trip.

    The Rivermark development seems more-appropriately located--its at least out in the "industrial" area.

    --don
    I really can't see how adding more density to El Camino Real and Stevens Creek Boulevard can be considered bad things...both are already relatively dense - and there is close proximity to services just about anywhere along those streets, and especially in the areas where those two developments exist.

    Let's compare the Rivermark to Santana Row - you may get a shorter trip to work at the Rivermark, but Santana Row is a two minute walk to one of the largest malls on the West Coast, a Safeway, a Longs Drugs, a Borders bookstore, a two multi screen theaters, 50 restaurants, several banks, a 24 hour every 12 minute bus line, and just about every other neighborhood service that a person would need. If you live there, it's quite possible that the only time a car would be needed would be for commuting to work. Price points there are high, sure - but they're also high just about everywhere in Santa Clara County. It makes sense that a place with as many close by amenities would be pricey.

    Taking a look at Santa Clara Square - yes, it may not be right next to Silicon Valley job sites, but again it's right smack dab in the middle of all sorts of shops, restaurants, a 24 hour every 5 minute bus line, etc. Also - it shouldn't be ignored that it's right next to Lawrence Expressway, a direct shot by car or (potentially in the future) bus to industrial sites.

  9. #9
    As I am on vacation visiting my mother which included a trip to Santana Row...

    One could not move one's car for weeks except for work trips if one lived there. Eventually the entire El Camino at least from San Jose to Palo Alto, if not to San Francisco should be the same way - or else get ready to pave over the Central Valley.

    The transportation statistics come from the National Household Transportation Survey (or whatever its official title is now). I think I may have misquoted it. I think the 25% number refers to the total miles driven, not the percent of total trips.

    It is all available on the web.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    Eventually the entire El Camino at least from San Jose to Palo Alto, if not to San Francisco should be the same way
    That's what the "Grand Boulevards Initiative" envisions--Daly City to San Jose, 1/4 mile on either side of El Camino.

    --don

  11. #11
    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    One other note on the two developments you mentioned - they are both on heavily used transit lines that happen to connect to areas where many of the retail employees would likely live - further helping to reduce auto trips.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    Perhaps with a bit (well, a lot, actually...) of irony: the planners who both push for and design these sorts of developments most often also can't afford to live there.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    Perhaps with a bit (well, a lot, actually...) of irony: the planners who both push for and design these sorts of developments most often also can't afford to live there.
    That's true, but planners usually can't afford McMansions on 2-acre lots either. I think as these types of developments become more common the prices will become more reasonable - they seem to happen in the priciest areas and trickle down.

  14. #14
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    Our City is in the infant stages of "true" mixed use development. I can understand the original question and concern as we have yet to be presented with an actual mixed use development and typically traffic impacts and parking are always very controversial. It seems no matter what mitigation strategy or concept is suggested or recommended someone always finds fault. We are not laid out in a grid and have a very limited City transit and are a tourist town so parking demands vary depending on the time of year as does traffic. In one area I believe we will have the same scenario as described by darnoldy as the area is within the tourism core. I think the trade off that you might be overlooking is that some of those that can afford to purchase the units described are probably retired and if not, the trips for necessity items as well as dining, etc., should offset or reduce the amount of overall trips.

    How do most of you handle parking for Condo and/or timeshare units within a mixed use project? Is the development required to reserve parking for each unit which can only be utilized by said unit? Also, how do you handle employee and guest parking (if any) for the privatively owned units? Most importantly, are there any suggestions based on your experience regarding parking standards for the residential component,


    .

  15. #15
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    Live/Work

    I would agree that with a lot of the new mixed use developments that include high density residential space there is still the need for the people who live in these developments to commute to their jobs. One can hope such developments include a mass transit stop at the very least. However, there is a problem of scale. What if the residents worked at, say, facebook or Google? Those are placed on giant corporate campuses with very large footprints. It would seem to me that some very creative designing, and presents an interesting design challenge, would have to occur in order for employees who work at such places to be able to walk to work. Immediately what comes to mind are mixed use high rise office towers: retail on street level, a number of floors devoted to residential, and the remainder devoted to office space. That is a very traditionally urban design scenario.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Doberman's avatar
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    I'm not familiar with San Francisco, but do you work for an otherwise suburban area? Like most planners, I'm all for mixed use developments. I think mixed use and developments and Agricultural zoning are really what will keep sprawl at bay.

    From a realistic standpoint, mixed use development in the suburbs with affordable housing; which I guess is what people call "live-work" sites, would great contribute to congestion and commute times. A suburban mixed use would likely include higher end restaurants, bars, retail, etc. to fit in with the existing demographics. For most of the workers at said development, the majority would be considered working class and necessitate apartments. Most suburbs are at their traffic threshold and when you throw in high density housing you exasperate the problem and irritate existing residents. So I would assume most developers are going to opt for Condos or higher end townhouses versus affordable apartments. They can get more bang for their buck and it's an easier sell to the community as a whole.

    I don't see a big problem with people reverse commuting to the suburbs from the city for retail jobs or commuting from more affordable rural hamlets. I think having both sides of the highway being used in the morning and evening is a healthy sign so long as they aren't locked.

    When you start tossing around high density in the suburbs there are legitimate concerns for traffic and others that aren't so much like loss of property value.

    I don't know what the situation is like for other areas around the country, but apartment living in the suburbs here is pretty dire. Any affordable apartment is tiny, and anything with any size or quality could get you a much larger home with the same rent going to a mortgage. I believe many people paying 1200 dollars a month for rent (which is a lot in Alabama), are going to be stuck renting for quite some time because I don't see how you can save up any kind of down payment with rents like that.

    It's a great discussion to have. I think given the situation of most American big cities being so decayed, you have much more freedom for mixed use developments resulting in an altogether positive outcome. In the suburbs it's more of a touchy subject. In some of the rural towns that I work with, I think they have a place as well so long as they are preserving the overall Mayberry feel of the town.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Good discussion! I am the developer of such a place. We are a non-profit affordable housing developer and the site in question is both mixed-use and mixed-income. It will have about 160 residential units and about 20 retail spaces at full build out. It will also include 8 townhomes for sale (all other units are for lease). It is located by public transit and also within the urban core (where the majority of jobs are located). Currently we have about 100 residential units and 18 retail spaces. For our city, this is pretty high density.

    The thinking in our case is not so much that people who own businesses should also live at the development (though that would be an exciting synergy for some) but that regular needs are located close by and do not require an additional trip. But beyond that, it is about creating a vibrant place where people enjoy living that is still relatively close to job centers and transit options. The number one activity that people like to engage with in public is watching other people (or so says Mr. Whyte) and these kinds of projects where retail and residential uses coexist create such places (the retail serving as “third places”). They are exciting to be in and contrast with stand alone apartment complexes with no additional uses in the immediate area. These are often unpleasant places to live that have less activity and fewer eyes on the street. You are either leaving your place, returning home or inside. We are trying to make great places.

    In our development, the anchor tenant is a bew pub which stimulates a lot of social activity. This activity also leads to social capital and better connections among the people who work and live there. Its nice to come home from work, get settled at home and then pop downstairs for a pint with a friend. You can also take a Zumba class next door, music lessons down the block, get your hair done or maybe a tattoo. Quality of life.

    One also has to consider that we were dealing with a brownfield site on a substantially sized lot within the urban core. The question was how to develop this particular parcel in a manner that best benefitted the local community and the city as a whole given what else pre-existed in the immediate area. We felt more businesses to be supported by not just the development's residents, but also the surrounding neighborhood, along with increased residential density (to truly make those businesses viable and provide more housing within the urban core) was the way to go. We did a lot of visioning with local residents to come to this conclusion. We are a community land trust and so what happens to the collectively owned land it is driven by our residents and others from the surrounding neighborhoods. The idea really grew from an articulation of the local needs and desires of an historically lower income neighborhood.

    Statistically, people do not remain in jobs for very long these days, so employment and residence locations are not static things. We should embrace this reality and develop accordingly IMO. I don’t think it is realistic to think that people renting apartments will also be able to be employed in that same development – a lot of stars would have to align for that to happen. Do they own their own business? Is the location right for what they do/sell? Do they have the skill set to match what the employers there need? And so on. And a lot of factors drive people to live in certain areas – what they can afford, schooling for the kids, etc. all factor in so it is not just about live and work. What if I quit my job or the business goes under? What if I get a better job elsewhere in town? If you want the perfect storm of many people working and living in the same location, you are going to have a very long lease-up process and that may not be economically feasible. And I guarantee that circumstances will change.

    Clustering employment in more concentrated areas, encouraging mixed-income and mixed-use developments in and immediately around those areas, and enhancing all of it with good transit is, I think, the key to reducing traffic impacts and making better cities.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  18. #18
    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    I'm not sure what it's like in other areas, but a lot of the suburban downtowns in the Chicago area that have the mixed-use high-density developments that are being described (ground-level retail & dining with condos above) often successfully target wealthier retirees. Both my grandmothers moved to condo buildings in a suburban downtown in the northwest suburbs..and one still lives there (the other passed away). These projects have also definitely been more successful in the towns with commuter rail stations than those without. Between empty-nester retirees not having to drive to work everyday and other residents walking to the train every morning, traffic congestion isn't typically that big of a problem.

    As far as these units' lack of affordability, I agree with the other posters that you have to start somewhere. Who knows, based on Millennial preferences, we may see more and more nicer affordable rental units popping up in mixed-use urban forms (even in the suburbs) and more and more corporate offices following them to the urban and suburban downtowns. It's already happening in Chicagoland with suburban office complexes becoming ghost towns (and in some cases being demolished) as tech companies and others set up shop in old office buildings in downtown Chicago, a total reversal of what happened in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. It's difficult to say what will happen when Millennials decide to start having kids en masse and how their preferences might change...I think many will still want single-family homes but likely will want to stay in a desirable walkable neighborhood near the downtown core of a town rather than a massive lot in a far-flung exurb.
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