October 5, 2015
The Impact of Mixed-Use Developments in Shaping our Cities

In her landmark book on urban planning, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”, visionary planner Jane Jacobs observed that: “Intricate minglings of different uses in cities are not a form of chaos. On the contrary, they represent a complex and highly developed form of order.”

The current trend towards mixed-use developments in urban centers like Ottawa is the realization of Jacobs’ planning philosophy. In these new shared spaces, retailers, commercial enterprises, and residents come together to make the best possible use of the limited square footage available in the downtown core. Of course, with new developments come new challenges and design constraints.

Most new mixed-use developments are planned to replace existing single-use structures which means building on the existing footprint. The architect and developer cannot afford to waste the available space on vast parking structures so the initial planning must take into account access to public transportation and design for pedestrian access. As an example, Telus House at Bank and Slater was designed with overhanging elements and newly-planted trees to provide shade for visitors and passers-by. This helps make the building more welcoming to residents and visitors alike.

Another consideration is the aesthetic of the existing neighbourhood. Mixed-use buildings are meant to complement and enhance their surroundings so the planners and architects must take that into consideration and reflect elements of the adjacent properties in their design. The Slater – currently under construction on Slater Street in Ottawa – illustrates this requirement well. The buildings around it are largely classical modernist in their construction and The Slater takes that as its starting point, then updates it with the newer materials and open construction available today to provide a light, airy structure that still fits in well with the existing structures.

Experience has shown that the best configuration for a mixed-use building is retail on the main, street level floors which are easily accessible to the general public, while commerical spaces and residential or hotel units claim the higher floors. In this way, the development houses all the traditional tenants of downtown real estate in one place while still maintaining the separation and privacy they need and expect. By bringing all these uses together in one space, planners and architects are creating the kind of “urban village” advocated by Jane Jacobs as a way of making our cities more efficient and at the same time, more human.