Mixed Land Use

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Table of contents

    - Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961 1

    Jane Jacobs dedicated more than 450 pages to the design of sidewalks, safety, city neighborhood mixing, and density. Although we can't dedicate as much time as she did, her legacy lives on in the revival of mixed land use development in cities across the US. Depending on whether you live in a city, suburb, or rural area, you may have come across an area that mixes housing and restaurants or stores. There's a lot that goes into this, which we'll explore as cities begin funding this kind of development. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of mixed land use, disadvantages, and more.

    Mixed Land Use: Definition

    Mixed land use development combines residential, commercial, cultural, or institutional functions into a building, block, or neighborhood. It's usually planned and built in a small, dense area to increase walkability and cycling.

    Although European cities do not specifically zone for mixed land use, this is partly because most urban planners and zones know instinctively to plan for it. In North America, single-use zoning is not only the main obstacle to mixed land use but also has been linked to reduced affordability and to racial and income segregation in the US. Planning for mixed land use is a recent phenomenon in North America and this can be attributed to the history of urban planning in the 20th century.

    Single-use zoning is when structures of only one kind of use or purpose can be built in an area. This largely separates major city functions from each other.

    History of Mixed Land Use

    Historically, most cities were developed with mixed land use. Walking was the primary mode of transportation for most residents, requiring commercial services to be provided close to people. You can see evidence of this in older cities that are characterized by narrow streets with businesses usually on the first floor.

    The combination of industrialization and transportation advancements in the early 20th century led to new zoning regulations, especially in the US. The mass production and sale of automobiles, funding for mass highway construction, and newly industrialized areas were the impetus for zoning strategies in the US, specifically single-family residential zoning.

    Sprawling development replaced traditional, grid-like street design and mixed uses. Cities began to transform in the 1950s and 60s, with highways splitting up older developments, creating transportation links for suburban commuters who tended to be white and affluent. Redlining, blockbusting, and segregation were strategies employed to ensure minority or lower-income groups resided far from new suburban developments.

    Mixed Land Use, Highway 10 in New Orleans Mixed Land Use Definition, StudySmarter

    Fig. 1 - Highway 10 in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, map data © 2022 Google; Highway 10 split up minority and low-income neighborhoods in New Orleans, evident in the obstruction of the highway through the old-grid streets

    Robert Moses vs. Jane Jacobs

    Robert Moses was a very influential and powerful urban planner in the early to mid-20th century, particularly in New York City. He not only planned major infrastructure projects like Jones Beach State Park, Triborough Bridge, and the Central Park zoo but also influenced a generation of engineers, planners, and architects in the US.

    Moses was a believer in urban renewal projects and highway expansion plans. In his career, Moses evicted around 500,000 residents, displacing entire communities and neighborhoods, particularly minority and low-income.2 He accrued a tremendous amount of power at the local and regional level, amassing more influence than any other urban planner.

    Mixed Land Use, Jane Jacobs, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Jane Jacobs

    Jane Jacobs was a journalist and activist who wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961. Her book is one of the most influential in urban planning and city design, especially in promoting mixed-use development and diversity. Witnessing local residents' displacement from urban renewal projects in New York, she confronted Robert Moses' projects at the neighborhood level. She created a protest movement against building the Lower Manhattan Expressway and succeeded in keeping Manhattan intact. Jacobs is a major inspiration for the New Urbanist movement.

    See the article on New Urbanism to learn more!

    Mixed Land Use Development

    The main components of mixed land use development are:

    • Type of land use functions that will be mixed (residential, commercial, cultural, and institutional)

    • Amount of density (vertical or horizontal mixed-use style)

    • Height and placement of buildings (high-rise or lower-level buildings)

    • Transportation considerations: public transit access, walkability, cycling

    Mixed use can therefore come in many forms.

    Vertical mixed use combines different functions within one building. For example, a building may have residential or hotel rooms on the upper floors and retail shops, grocery stores, or restaurants on the first levels.

    Mixed Land Use, Mixed Use Building in Fate Texas, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Mixed Use Building in Fate, Texas; An example of a vertical mixed use style

    Another form is horizontal mixed use, which is a mix of single-use buildings (homes, offices) on the same block with other functions. Although there is still a separation of function, everything is within close proximity via walking or cycling.

    Mixed Land Use, Mixed Use in Montreal Canada Mixed Land Use Development, StudySmarterFig. 4 - Mixed Use in Montreal, Canada; An example of horizontal mixed use style, with residential buildings surrounding other functions


    The key to either vertical or horizontal mixed use is that the areas within mixed-used zones are walkable. What does walkability mean? A range of factors make a place walkable: quality of sidewalk; connectivity to other streets; safe walking conditions; pedestrian right-of-way. These factors prioritize people over vehicles while also increasing the quality of the walking experience.

    A big issue with making streets more walkable in the US is that street design is under the control of transportation engineers. Transportation engineers are primarily taught how to make driving safer and faster while also reducing traffic. In recent years, the Transportation Planning Handbook, which guides engineers and planners, has begun to include planning for other transportation options (such as public transit use, walking, and cycling).3 However, with high car dependency in the US, priorities continue to lie with car-dominated streets.

    To make a neighborhood or community more walkable, both urban and transportation planning should invest in different strategies to elevate the quality of the sidewalk. By elevating the quality of the sidewalk, people are more likely to walk. It's not enough to just build a sidewalk.

    A few successful strategies for this are:

    • Adding buffers (vegetation) between car-filled streets and sidewalks with vegetation or grass to reduce the harmful effects of breathing in carbon dioxide.

    • Creating pedestrian zones, which completely remove cars from an area

    • Improving safety with street lights

    • Removing obstructions such as poles or signposts

    Transit Oriented Development works best with mixed land use development! Check out our explanation to learn more.

    Mixed Land Use Benefits

    The benefits of planning and building in mixed land use style follow the guiding principles for sustainable design models. For construction to be deemed sustainable, it must meet social, economic, and environmental criteria.

    Mixed land use provides opportunities for developing a healthier and greener environment that promotes active transportation and proximity to services, creating greater social cohesion. Higher density and proximity better utilize space and consolidates electric and sanitation systems, along with fire and security services, increasing economic incentives for cities to save. Finally, reduced car dependency and increased green areas have many environmental and health benefits.

    Disadvantages of Mixed Land Use

    The disadvantage of mixed land use development primarily has to do with decreasing affordability options, especially for middle and lower-income residents. That's because many mixed land use development projects are located in the denser and already more expensive areas of cities.

    Housing affordability has been an issue in the US for decades but has gotten worse in recent years. This is primarily due to an over-reliance on single-use zoning which decreases the types of housing that can be built (i.e., apartments, multi-family units), with priority on single-family homes. Developers and planners can address affordability issues through inclusionary zoning (providing below-market-rate units in new developments) and density bonuses (incentivizing developers to build affordable units in exchange for greater density).4

    Mixed Land Use Examples

    Some of the best examples of mixed land use development are in Europe. This is also because they were built before cars were widely introduced, with walking as the immediate mode of transport. Regardless, both vertical and horizontal mixed land use types exist all over the world.

    Mixed Use in Germany

    Single-use zoning is completely absent in urban planning codes in Germany. This is because German cities developed and grew before planning codes were created. Housing construction, especially in cities, prioritized walking proximity. To this day, this kind of development has meant greater accessibility for the elderly and children, who cannot drive a car and have the option to walk, cycle, or take public transportation.

    Mixed Land Use, Hagenmarkt in Peine Lower Saxony Germany Mixed Land Use Examples, StudySmarterFig. 5 - Hagenmarkt in Peine, Lower Saxony, Germany; narrow streets and dense mixed-use development surrounding an outdoor market

    Mixed Use in the US

    Every year, more and more mixed use development projects are funded. Developers and planners are beginning to see the positive effects of having residential and day-to-day services close-by. The biggest challenge is for city planners and local city councils to re-designate areas away from single-use zoning. This goes against a lot of previous city planning, which may still take years to change. Cities are the major target areas for mixed use developments currently. This is because sprawled areas (i.e.suburbs), lack the density necessary for mixed land use to be walkable and successful. With around 50% of US residents living in the suburbs, it may take a long time to see more mixed development!

    Mixed Land Use - Key takeaways

    • Mixed land use development combines residential, commercial, cultural, or institutional functions into a building, block, or neighborhood. It's usually planned and built in small, dense area to increase walkability and cycling.

    • Mixed land use arose as a reaction to single-use zoning which fueled sprawling development patterns.

    • Mixed land use can come in the form of vertical mixed use or horizontal mixed use.

    • Walkability is a major factor in mixed land use. Walkability depends on the quality of sidewalk, connectivity to other streets, safe walking conditions, and pedestrian right-of-way.


    1. Jacobs, J. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Random House. 1961.
    2. Burkeman, O. "The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro review – a landmark study" The Guardian. Oct. 23, 2015.
    3. Institute of Transportation Engineers, and Meyer, M. "Transportation Planning Handbook, 4th Edition." Aug., 2016.
    4. Moos, M., Vinodral, T., Revington, N., and Seasons, M. "Planning for Mixed Use: Affordable for Whom?" Journal of the American Planning Association. Vol. 84, Issue 1. Jan, 2018. DOI: 10.1080/01944363.2017.1406315
    5. Fig. 3: Mixed use building in Fate, Texas (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Downtown_Mixed_Use_Building.jpg), by JLarson2021 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=User:JLarson2021&action=edit&redlink=1), licensed by CC BY SA-4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
    6. Fig. 4: Mixed Use in Montreal, Canada (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Square_Phillips_Montreal_50.jpg), by Jeangagnon (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Jeangagnon), licensed by CC-BY-SA-4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
    7. Fig. 5: Hagenmarkt in Peine, Lower Saxony, Germany (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Peine_Luftbild_Hagenmarkt.jpg), by Dr. Peter Schmidt (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Alexandre_Coeur), licensed by CC-BY-SA-3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Mixed Land Use

    What is mixed land use?

    Mixed land use development combines residential, commercial, cultural, or institutional functions into a building, block, or neighborhood. It's usually planned and built in small, dense areas to increase walkability and cycling. 

    What is mixed use land development?

    Mixed land use development is the process of planning and building in regards to different land use functions, in a degree of density with regards to building height and placement, and public transit and walkability options. 

    What is an example of a mixed-use development?

    An example of mixed-use development is in the city of Peine, Germany. It's characterized by narrow streets and dense mixed-use development surrounding an outdoor market. 

    What does mixed land use cause?

    Mixed land use can cause many benefits not only for cities which can save on costs for electricity, sanitation, and services but also for people as they can actively transport themselves to their desired locations. 

    Why is mixed land use important? 

    Mixed land use is important in addressing sustainable development. Especially as the evidence of the costs from urban sprawl (both economically and environmentally) becomes apparent, new, sustainable ways of planning are needed. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    What is mixed land use? 

    What is single-use zoning? 

    Historically, cities were never built with mixed land use. 


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