A mixed-use development is an urban environment designed to naturally incorporate both commercial and residential functions into a cohesive, attractive, and walkable space. Even if you’ve never heard of the concept, you’ve probably seen a mixed-use urban environment within the last week, since there are more than 20 in the DFW region alone. These developments are not quite malls and not quite shopping centers — they aspire to rise above the mundane retail strips and food courts, crafting an environment that invites you not just to shop, or eat, but to dwell.
Of course, there’s a problem. While some mixed-use developments find success by adding diverse amenities like apartments, running trails, and movie theaters to existing commercial hotspots, other developers must create these environments from scratch. This is obviously risky — if you build it, they will come, but “they” won’t necessarily think it’s cool. At their worst, mixed-use developments feel like creepy approximations of human life, giant adult playpens dropped from space without any thought to whether they fit where they land.
To ensure that the mixed-use takeover in Dallas is a pleasant invasion, here are a few suggestions for making these environments feel a little more like home.
1. Keep some business local.
Part of the reason mixed-use development is booming so big? Millennials. After millions of dollars in market research, we’ve discovered that they tend to like things that are different than other things. The idea of “authenticity” is hard to come by when you built the place last year, but developers can improve their standing by partnering with local businesses and restaurateurs, filling their commercial spaces with stuff that’s actually unique. I love Twisted Root Burger Co., but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one outside of the original Deep Ellum location that wasn’t the anchor of some giant mixed-use project. Maybe try a pizza place instead?
2. Fewer giant condos, more small apartments.
Remember that millennial thing I mentioned earlier? Another fact we’ve learned is that they’re broke. Young people are increasingly unable to afford large homes and condos, but they still want to live near the action. They also have fewer possessions, and overall desire less space. Mixed-use developers should keep this in mind by downsizing available residential units and increasing them in number — a strategy that may end up more profitable overall.
3. Groceries within walking distance.
Basic walkability is the driving philosophy behind mixed-use development, but there’s more to it than that — a good development ensures that nearly everything a visitor or resident might need exists only a short walk away, allowing for a convenient carless lifestyle. Nobody wants to buy their groceries at the corner store, so large anchors such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are incredibly desirable. Who knows — keep your fingers crossed, and maybe someday we’ll get an H-E-B.