The First Mixed-Use Development

If you don’t know the term “Mixed-Use Development,” you will no doubt understand what it is. That’s because residents, politicians, and planning officials have embraced the importance of walkable neighborhoods in keeping an area vibrant and growing. Mixed-use developments are an essential component for achieving walkability.

So what is it?

Essentially, a mixed-use development is a development that combines two or more different types of land uses, such as residential, commercial, businesses, and entertainment in close proximity. For example, apartments or condos located in the upper floors of a multi-story building, with commercial space such as restaurants or stores on the ground floor, would be mixed-use. You could also locate several types of businesses, such as law firms or tech companies, in that same building. Some variations include a grocery store and other businesses in one part of a project with townhouses in a nearby section. The key point to keep in mind is that multiple types of land use are close to each other.

I thought of all that as I viewed the virtual St. Paul’s Cross project and noticed small buildings surrounding the Cathedral courtyard. The back wall of the business was the outside wall of the Cathedral. The roof of the small business sloped down from the Cathedral wall.

When I asked NC State University's Dr. John Wall to identify the buildings, he explained they housed bookstores, manuscript shops and other merchants. While some people in 17th century London complained about use of the Cathedral courtyard as a marketplace (think the Gospel story of Jesus driving the money-changers from the Temple courtyard), the arrangement was a win-win for everyone involved in 1622.

The business owners leased the buildings from the Cathedral, which provided income for the church. In return, the location was valuable to the merchant, as the square was the city’s crossroads. And since the buildings were two stories, the merchant was able to live above the shop.

It may not have been the first mixed-use development in history, but the concept that has become such an important part of urban planning today also played an important role in the health of cities in 17th century Europe.

- Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!

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