Urban Taskforce | Policy Agenda
Fact sheet: Mandating active streetscapes
26 February 2011
Ground floor uses should not be limited to non-residential uses. vThis may create a row of empty shopfronts and sap urban vitality away.
Allowing a mix of uses
The importance of land use mix to the success of a centre is widely accepted. Furthermore, it is now well understood that land use patterns have a significant influence on how well public transport services can be delivered and utilised.
By introducing more land use flexibility in the vicinity of transport infrastructure, the infrastructure itself benefits in terms of patronage and therefore viability. Development in the vicinity of transport nodes depends on private investment for its construction and in this regard, land use controls must recognise market realities if there is any likelihood of encouraging beneficial development.
Research consistently shows that residential density has a significant impact on the use of public transport. For instance, it was found that every 10 percent increase in population density was associated with about a 6 percent increase in boardings at train stations. Furthermore, most urban services cannot be provided unless there is a certain number of people that can make them viable. Therefore, it is essential that residential development be encouraged within town centres.
Providing for a mix of uses for centres well serviced by public transport is widely accepted as a planning response that would more readily encourage investment and development.
But mixed use cannot be mandated
Mixed use, neighbourhood centre or local centres zones should not require that each individual development comprise of a mix of uses.
Rather, such zones should permit a mix of compatible land uses within a defined area. In particular, the prescription of ground level uses must be avoided. For instance, if the uses permitted at ground level are found not to be viable at a certain point in time, tight regulation limiting the ground floor use may prevent a much-needed development from proceeding. If too much retail space is built, but is not used, visitors will avoid the area because of its empty shopfronts.
Some councils and even state planning agencies favour prohibitions on ground floor residential uses in areas designed for higher density development.
This may cause the very problem it is trying to avoid. If there is insufficient demand for retail space, developers are forced by these rules to build retail space that can be empty and underused leading to a ghost town atmosphere in the local streetscape.
Its far better that developers be allowed to populate empty land with the vibrancy of a residential neighbourhood than leave it bare because of a lack of demand for retail space. Similarly, forcing developers to build retail space that they know will be vacant (in order for the developer to get the benefit of residential space above) is a waste of resources and will do nothing to create a vibrant streetscape.
For more information (and source details) please read our fact sheet:
Fact Sheet: Mandating "active" steetscapes