The Health-Benefits Case for Mixed Used Development

HS-Mbooklet-28 Pages4The term ‘mixed-use development’ refers to buildings that contain a mix of uses – such as commercial, retail or other non-residential uses, maintaining an active commercial and business environment at pedestrian (street) level often in conjunction with residential dwellings on the upper levels in a multiple dwelling configuration.

The location of different land uses relative to one another has a strong impact on how people travel between and to/from them.  The location of key employment, education, retail and recreation land uses close to homes is a key design feature of ‘walkable’ and sustainable neighborhood design to encourage active transport.  Areas with a greater mix of co-located, complementary, land uses or destinations allow for multiple activities to be undertaken and different daily needs (i.e., live, work, play) to be met in the one location.  Neighborhoods with a mix of co-located destinations (for example at a neighborhood or town center) are also more conducive for walking and cycling as they provide local focal points for people to meaningfully and conveniently walk or cycle to within their neighborhood.

The provision of mixed-use neighborhood and town centers within walking distance from homes also makes alternative forms of transport such as walking, cycling or public transport use more viable and provides people with the option not to use the car.  In addition to the health benefits associated with walking and cycling, this assists in reducing the use of the car for local trips – an established known producer of greenhouse gas emissions.

The presence of mixed-use buildings with ‘active’ ground floor uses and those that extend onto the street (i.e., café seating areas) fosters natural surveillance and feelings of safety and help to create a vibrant streetscape and mixed-use neighborhood centers.  Additionally, the presence of a mix of destinations and/or mixed-use buildings that facilitate a variety of uses and generate activity at different periods of the day and night is important for creating vibrant, inviting and safe neighborhood and town mixed-used areas / centers.

Ensuring neighborhoods have access to a mix of shops, services and transport connections have positive implications beyond physical activity.  The provision of a mix of destinations and community facilities within the neighborhood helps to attract a range of people of all ages and provides opportunities for casual and chance interactions with other members of the community as well as providing places and spaces for people of all ages to gather, meet friends and family and engage in social activities. Mixed-use planning and the presence of a variety of destinations also promotes walking which in turn increases the sense of community or social capital through the facilitation of interaction between residents on the streets.

However, post-war suburban development, with its segregated retail and commercial land uses, has resulted in the development of isolated residential suburbs. The increased distances as a result of this segregation of land uses makes it impractical for residents to walk or cycle to these destinations as part of their daily routine.

Summary of evidence:
• Locating schools near residential areas also provides opportunities for students to walk to school and promotes daily physical activity among children and youth.
• Good access to recreational facilities is associated with physical activity among children, adolescents, adults and older adults.
• There  is consistent evidence that the combination of higher residential densities and mixed land uses are positively associated with adults and older adults walking.
• Neighborhood ‘walkability’ (a combination of residential density, mixed-use planning and street connectivity) is consistently associated with walking for transport and general walking.
• Neighborhoods that promote interaction between residents, via more walkable, mixed-use planning, and sport and recreation facilities tend to have higher stocks of social capital and sense of community.

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