Links to the 'choice', 'connections' and 'custodianship' components of the seven Cs (Urban Design Protocol).

What is mixed use?

Mixed use is where different activities take place in the same building, street or neighbourhood.

Key findings

Urban design that supports mixed use areas (with other factors including good connections and high intensity of different uses) can:

  • allow parking and transport infrastructure to be used more efficiently
  • lower household expenditure on transport
  • increase the viability of local shops and facilities
  • encourage walking and cycling - bringing health benefits, reducing the need to own a car and thus reducing emissions
  • enhance social equity
  • increase personal safety
  • offer people convenience, choices and opportunity which lead to a sense of personal wellbeing.

Overview of the research

Mixed use - This mixed use development on Parnell Road in Auckland combines apartment living with shops at ground level. Source - Auckland City Council.There is considerable evidence that mixed use (in conjunction with other design conditions, such as connectivity) minimises travel distances. This allows people to make more trips by foot or bicycle than by car, with clear health and convenience benefits. Car ownership levels do not necessarily change - cars are still used for trips outside the neighbourhood, or for heavy shopping trips - but people may not use their cars as often. Household spending on travel and transportation may be reduced.

The viability of public transport is also improved: a single bus or train stop can serve several destinations, which encourages people to use it more.

The viability of public transport is also improved: a single bus or train stop can serve several destinations, which encourages people to use it more.

Mixed use - A mix of retail outlets, cafes, bars and professional offices attracts people to Vulcan Lane in Auckland at all times of the day and night.Benefits to the local economy also flow from mixed use. It improves people's access to work opportunities, especially low income earners. Different people make use of an area at different times and for different purposes, benefiting local shops and services.

Mixed use can help create more socially diverse environments as everyone - affluent or poor, young or old - has equal access to facilities, regardless of whether they own a car. However, it does not automatically follow that there is increased interaction between people. Some research suggests mixed use may not lead to greater levels of contact between people: for example, there may be little interaction between affluent and poorer residents.

Mixed use may also enhance security and safety. One American study found less physical violence in mixed use areas (although this was countered by increases in other kinds of disorder, such as graffiti). Other studies showed such areas were safer due to higher levels of natural surveillance because people were in the streets at all hours of the day and night.

There is evidence that people who live and work in mixed use areas appreciate the wide range of experiences and facilities available to them. While there can be negative aspects to mixed use living - such as noise or lack of space - there is also convenience, choice and opportunity.

Constraints to mixed use development have been identified. For example, local planning policies may restrict some uses in certain areas. There may be higher risks - perceived or actual - for developers and investors. Not all activities mix, and some - such as those involving noxious emissions, large numbers of heavy trucks, or 24-hour heavy industrial activities - need to be located in specially zoned areas. Not all urban residents or uses may benefit from the development of mixed use areas, either in the inner-city or on greenfield sites.

But it is possible to overcome these difficulties and there are real benefits in doing so.

The following diagram demonstrates the benefits of mixed use and good connectivity.

"Those living in a more compact, mixed use and pedestrian oriented neighbourhood averaged about a 10 percentage point higher share of non-work trips by walking, biking and transit modes than those in a typical middle class and upper middle class American suburb."

Cervero & Radisch, 1996


Where local amenities are within walking distance, there may be better health outcomes, according to a North American study. It found that the likelihood of obesity across gender and ethnicity "declined by 12.2% for each quartile increase in mixed use [land], and by 4.8% for each kilometre walked".

Frank et al, 2004


CABE and DETR's 2001 report found that good urban design "can be decisive in retaining companies in particular areas ... in urban as opposed to out of town locations".

Carmona et al, 2001


Expert observations of the centres of major US cities point to a link between intensive mixed use and increased safety.

Petersen, 1998.


In an Auckland Regional Council study (2001), residents commented on the safety advantages of mixed use areas - the "security of more people around" - while businesses also reported "increased security".

Research Solutions, 2001


The 2001 CABE and DETR research, which involved numerous case studies, concluded that "mixing uses leads directly to higher user and occupier satisfaction and was fundamental to the social, economic and environmental value added by the most successful case studies". Carmona et al, 2001

The benefits of mixed use and good connectivity

See chart at its full size including text description