Typically, many of us regard the commercial development of raw land as a bad thing for the environment. Once a natural plot is developed, we assume, it’s nearly impossible to return it to its original pristine condition.
But what if there were exceptions to this rule? Could mixed-use projects actually promote environmental sustainability?
Why Mixed-Use Projects Make Sense
Interest in mixed-use developments has grown over the last 15 years. It is now a popular development strategy across Europe, in parts of the US, and in dozens of the developed nations around the world.
Although we know that mixed-use projects can be cash cows for developers who want to maximize the ROI on their land, they’re also highly rewarding because of their potential for promoting sustainability. Here are five specific reasons why.
- Land Maximization
“In true urban areas, the mixed-use development is the most efficient way to maximize limited land,” developer Greg Freedman explains. “While creating a sense of place where people can live, work, shop, dine and gather in one building happens more organically in urban cities, we’re seeing ‘cities within a city’ in the form of lifestyle centers springing up in numerous suburban areas as well.”
According to Assets America, land maximization is one of the most appealing factors of the best mixed-use development projects. As opposed to building a single structure on a plot and using it for a single specific use, mixed-use projects enable the developer to maximize every part of the land — vertically and horizontally.
There’s no wasted space, which means there’s greater opportunity for a positive return (both financially and environmentally).
- Preserves Land
In addition to maximizing land the project has been constructed on, mixed-use developments also preserve land within the larger context. When you make better use of specific tracts, the surrounding land can be preserved as well.
In other words, city planners no longer have to focus on putting a park on one city block, a supermarket on the next, and an apartment complex on the block beyond that. Instead, a supermarket can be constructed on a city block that has a park in the middle and apartment units above.
Air pollution and carbon emissions are growing problems in developed countries. Limiting the number of cars on the road could resolve much of this issue.
Mixed-use projects aim to give citizens everything they need in a compact area, and thereby create more walkable communities. “Moreover, improved walkability also reduces the traffic and pollution created by residents that would need to drive to and from more traditional, single-use development projects,” Reonomy explains.
“In urban areas, for instance, many residents can forgo their cars altogether. When mixed-use development is concentrated around public transit, it becomes easier than ever to walk or bike from one place to another, using public transit as a means to travel between mixed-use projects.”
- LEED-Certified Design
One facet of LEED design that many people may not know is that it doesn’t cost that much more than traditional construction. When you consider that it may save as much as 30 percent of energy consumption in a large mixed-use project, making the commitment to it is a no-brainer.
Not only is LEED certification more cost-effective for the development team, tenants, and owners, but it also promotes environmental sustainability through the maximization of energy resources. As more developers and contractors become LEED certified, the sustainability of mixed-use projects will rise.
- Opportunity for Solar Power Harvesting
Mixed-use projects are perfect for harvesting solar power and reducing energy consumption. In recent years, such developments have used solar panels as awnings, and installed solar panel roof tiles that generate power to run the entire building. As solar harvesting technology improves, the potential will undoubtedly grow.
Developing for the Future
As land becomes increasingly scarce in urban areas and surrounding suburbs, we have to become more conscious of how we approach developments, and do a better job of preserving land for future generations.
Mixed-use projects aren’t the only answer, obviously, but they do offer a solution for maximizing land use and promoting a conservation mindset. One project may not seem like a big deal, but when you multiply the impact across hundreds or thousands of similar developments across the nation and the globe, the potential impact of mixed-use projects becomes more clear.