Pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use development – with housing or offices above streetside retail stores – was the norm in most communities during the first half of the 20th century. People walked or biked or took the trolley for most local trips. During the second half of the 20th century, however, automobile-oriented shopping centers and shopping malls became the norm for commercial development, particularly in suburban communities.
In recent years, these auto-oriented shopping centers and malls have lost much of their luster with customers as well as with community residents. Despite the fact that these retail centers remain economically viable in many cases, it has become increasingly clear that they fail to enhance the surrounding residential community.
Strengthening Neighborhoods. Traditional streetside, mixed-use retail buildings were an integral part of the surrounding neighborhood, adding vibrancy and vitality and convenience. In contrast, the contemporary shopping center and mall stand apart from the community, as an island of parking and large-scale buildings, cut off from the surrounding homes.
While the advent and continued popularity of big-box retail stores guarantees a role for the mega shopping centers and malls, many communities are now seeking to encourage smaller-scale, mixed-use streetside development as a way to strengthen neighborhoods and to facilitate alternatives to automobile travel.
Zoning. Unfortunately, when those communities look to their zoning codes for help in encouraging this mixed-use streetside development, most find that the current zoning code is simply not up to the task. In some cases, the current zoning does not even permit retail and residential uses to be mixed or, more typically, it permits this type of development but fails to mandate it, allowing developers to build one-story retail buildings with parking in the front.
One solution is to replace a community’s current zoning code with what is known as a “form-based” zoning code. Form-based codes focus more on the physical form and layout of development than on the uses of land and buildings. Although this can be an effective approach to achieving streetside development, many communities are not prepared to take on the challenge of creating and administering a wholly different type of zoning code that is unfamiliar to administrators and users and that some find to be unnecessarily complex.
Fortunately, many of the urban design goals of a form-based code can be accomplished within the context of a traditional (“Euclidian”) zoning code, which is familiar to local administrators and developers. This is the case with the goal of creating and enhancing pedestrian-friendly, mixed-used development on a community’s historically commercial streets.
Attached is a discussion of zoning district regulations that can be effective in creating and enhancing pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use retail development. If you would like to discuss how this type of zoning can help achieve development goals in your community, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 216-392-8352.