With the increasing popularity of co-working spaces such as WeWork and LiquidSpace along with expanding opportunities to work remotely, the concept of workspace has changed significantly in the twenty-first century. We no longer need to suffer through a long commute or clock in at the office to get our work done. Furthermore, this newfound freedom from the traditional work environment has led to a rise in the number of communities in which people live, work, and play in the same area or complex. As a result, commercial construction companies are witnessing a trend towards the type of mixed-use spaces which effortlessly blend commercial and residential interests.
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, commercial construction started to employ the mixed-use design concept. Since the term was relatively new at the time, the Urban Institute published a Mixed-Use Development Handbook in 2003 which stipulated that mixed-use includes at least three revenue-generating uses (e.g. retail, residential, cultural, or cultural) while integrating land use and providing a pedestrian-friendly community. In other words, it needs to include areas with uninterrupted pedestrian thoroughfares in addition to retail and office space.
Although most people do not typically live and work in the same complex, the ability to live, work, and play in one place along with access to public transportation remains the goal of these communities and their inhabitants.
What we’re really seeing, however, is a return to the type of urban centers that used to populate the country more than half a century ago. As the post-war industrial boom took hold and the American dream embodied a move to the suburbs and a white picket fence, urban living lost its cache. Decades later, spaces that were abandoned to industrial uses or merely seen as commercial districts are being re-purposed into the type of thriving, urban centers that combined the best of city living and tight-knit communities in the earlier part of the twentieth century.
Nowadays, people value living and working in close proximity over having property which demands more of their time and money for upkeep. Nevertheless, shorter commutes, convenient public transit, and lifestyle options aren’t novel concepts. What’s changed is a desire to correct past mistakes by making these urban areas more livable and friendlier than used to be. As anyone who used to work on Wall street during the latter part of the twentieth century remembers, the area was a ghost town after business hours apart from a few bars offering happy hour. These days, however, Battery Park City is a vibrant residential and retail center that even hosts screenings during the Tribeca Film Festival.
For these projects to succeed, commercial developers need to assimilate their projects into the environment. Essentially, including broader walkways and well-planned outdoor areas that allow for cultural elements such as sculptures or murals engages the public and brings vitality to an area. Furthermore, retail establishments stand to benefit with things like outdoor cafes and marketplaces.
Space requirements have also evolved along with technology. For instance, we no longer need large areas for servers or copy rooms. With tablets and laptops, the traditional office setup of cubicles and desks has given way to couches and La-Z-Boy recliners. Due to changing needs and work habits, developers need to be more creative during the planning and design phase. Basically, people want to be just as comfortable at the office as they are working remotely.
A great example of mixed-use development is Boston’s Hub on the Causeway, a major renovation project in downtown Boston which includes 1.5 million square feet of office, retail, and residential space above a major transportation hub. This development will transform the neighborhood with projects such as a glass-topped, 10,000 square foot entrance to the TD Garden. One of the project’s goals is to make the sports arena a more integral part of the city’s cultural life by incorporating it into the surrounding area.
In addition to office space, renovations include a retail center which will encompass a major food hall, theaters, even a concert venue. Essentially, this area will function as an entertainment center rather than a typical retail area. By blending a transportation hub (North Station) with the entrance to a major sports arena (TD Garden), this mixed-use project seeks to energize a neighborhood while being respectful of the history and legacy of a site once occupied by the fabled Boston Garden.
Consequently, the trend towards mixed-use projects really represents the broader goal of making a neighborhood come alive by incorporating additional elements such as entertainment venues and cultural centers. These offerings enable people to go from a trendy shop to a nice restaurant to a concert or even a stadium without ever leaving the area. With projects such as Boston’s Hub on the Causeway, developers are responding to the need to combine convenience and choice by seamlessly integrating people’s business and personal lives.
In the recent past, we tended to keep these elements separate from each other. Nowadays, however, the impetus is to blend these aspects together in a way that lets people enjoy a greater sense of community while simultaneously enabling businesses to thrive.