Mixed-use is, in practical terms, a combination of shopping, restaurants, office space, housing, entertainment, social services; among many others. A person living in a town with all of these can very well complete daily tasks, work, live, and play without leaving their neighborhood. As a shortcut to having all of these amenities clustered in a downtown area or scattered through town, developers are designing complexes that provide everything in one parking lot. Town Centers are a recently popular choice for developers of retail/office/residential buildings.
The benefits of the Town Center design are many. They provide a one-stop location for locals to shop, eat, work, or go out for the evening. The automobile based suburbanite can plan to spend their afternoon and evening in one place, walking around from store to store. This layout is like a big outdoor mall, and can be valuable recreation spots for people from the area.
Another important component of the Town Center is the housing it provides. Apartments fill the space above retail stores. These apartments are beneficial in that they provide dense housing in close proximity to other amenities. The tenants of these apartments have numerous employment opportunities right outside their door, and can establish a life for themselves working and living solely in the Town Center complex. Planners seeking higher-density housing, and less automobile dependence, can satisfy the requirements for sustainable development. The people living in the development are able to establish a community in this newly constructed village.
The Town Center is very popular among consumers of housing. There is a very high demand for housing that is located in close proximity to daily essentials. The demand is greater when there is only a short walking distance to everything you need. As consumers decide what they want, populations are shifting toward high density housing options. Increasing population in urban centers will fill downtown to capacity, and people looking for the same features will overflow into the suburban Town Centers.
The mixed-use design of Town Center buildings provides many benefits to the business operator also. The stores, restaurants, and entertainment venues have customers to keep them healthy in business. The residents choose to spend their money at the most convenient location, and both parties co-exist harmoniously. The residents can engage with the businesses in their complex to organize community events and create more of a sense of neighborhood.
One downside of Town Centers is the lack of equity in housing. The new apartments are up-to-date with luxury details, and are priced higher to serve a wealthier consumer. The demand for apartments in the Town Center drives the cost for these units higher than usual. The apartments are financially out of reach for lower income tenants. Unfortunately, most Town Centers are designed for wealthier customers. Unless planned by the township, or required to have low-income housing, developers will build apartments only for the high-end consumers. The commercial profitability is the underlying factor that promotes the construction of Town Centers.
As luxury apartments fill with tenants, high-end retailers engage their customers in a comfortable walk-up environment. Elaborate sidewalks and landscaping provide a comfortable place to sit on a bench and drink your coffee. The shrubs and mulched areas are well cared-for, and the enormous parking lot is trash free. This environment provides everything the consumer could ever want, but it is missing the character of a traditional town. The planning and design of the facility was calculated to optimize human enjoyment, but the details so exact that it can look unnatural. For some, the Town Center is the coolest place to live. For others, the commercially driven super complex is uncomfortable and fundamentally flawed. The development and construction of Town Centers will continue until the demand runs out, and then the next suburban redevelopment idea takes over.