Sunday, June 17, 2012

Is 'mixed use' becoming a watered down term?

From Harvard Allston BRA presentation, June 13th (source)

Harvard University has been planning on expanding their Allston campus for quite a few years. Many of the parcels have been left empty for a long time, since before the recession. The school is now trying to work with the community while planning the changes and the new buildings that are to go in the area around Barry's Corner. At a recent community meeting, a representative from the BRA showed slides with some maps sketching out the preliminary vision for the site. While looking at one of those maps, I realized that there was something curious about the way he had demarcated different 'zones' of land with several labels, including: 'Academic', 'Athletics' and 'Mixed Use'.

Presumably, 'mixed use' means a piece of land that permits a combination of different kinds of uses, preferably with few non-safety-related restrictions. Does it really make sense to label one area  'Academic' and another 'Mixed Use' when academics could easily be one of several uses? I asked him: doesn't this segregation of uses defeat the point of 'mixed use'?

His response was that all the 'zones' were 'mixed use' but that the 'primary use' was indicated on the map. The ground-floor of those buildings would still be 'transparent.' This led another person to point out that being 'transparent' wasn't sufficient: glass walls are still walls. Being able to peer inside and see some student in a library, or some security guard at a desk, is not the kind of community interactivity that we were hoping to foster.

I believe that the point was well taken, but I still have to wonder about the way 'mixed use' is being tossed around by the BRA. It seems to be losing its common sense meaning as consultants insert it into plans as a synonym for 'retail' space.

1 comment:

  1. "Mixed-use" was a flawed term from the start, in my opinion. The original NY zoning ordinance of 1916 called unzoned areas "unrestricted," which does not speak to whether the area will be mixed-use -- it may or may not be, the market can't be predicted -- but rather emphasizes that the city simply will not attempt to restrict activities there. "Mixed-use," on the other hand, suggests a deliberate attempt to achieve a certain desired result, which is very much in line with Euclidean thinking in which each use has its place, including places for a "mix" of uses.

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