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Here's How Mixed-Use Development Of Land Improves Work-life Balance The main advantage of such real estate developments is that they are planned to provide a holistic life approach for inhabitants

By Kamal Khetan

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Walking to work is a dream for everyone, especially if the person lives in bustling cities such as Mumbai or Bengaluru. But a majority of urban dwellers continue to live in the suburbs and unplanned locations due to cheaper housing and living costs even though these are only accessible through narrow lanes often having severe traffic congestion, especially during the peak office hours. According to Boston Consulting Group (BCG), traffic congestion in India's major cities cost the economy nothing less than Rs 1.5 lakh crore every year.

The solution to this growing problem, earlier and even now, rest with mixed-use real estate projects providing a far more comfortable work-life experience to residents and reducing the need to move out for work or recreation. The major advantage of such development is that they are planned to provide a holistic life approach for inhabitants.

In the late 90s and much of 2000s, across most of the Indian cities, the land space shrunk rapidly, and commercial expansion became difficult while the soaring traffic congestion meant that commuters spent more time travelling than doing their jobs. Thus, at some point in time, the suburbs—till then residential havens—assumed the role of mixed-use landscapes, albeit on a marginal scale, to reduce the urban hardships. Today, most developers are looking at larger land parcels in such suburbs that can accommodate an inhabitant's 360-degree needs.

Mixed-use to mixed base

Mixed-use development can be broadly defined as developing buildings and communities that blend commercial, retail and residential spaces with modern design aesthetics and taste. Many of these are viewed from the perspective of live-work-play for communities that may include permanent residents, tenants and visitors.

Mixed-use development can be classified into three categories

Vertical, in which public utility spaces such as retail shops, restaurants and commercial businesses occupy the lower floors while the upper floors are dedicated for corporate offices, hotels and residential units. Many of the recent Mumbai projects are home to big five-star properties amid thriving corporate offices.

In horizontal mixed-use development, many single-use buildings house a complementary blend of businesses, retail and residential, but within a walkable precinct.

Then comes the 'pure mixed-use walkable areas'—common in many cities of the US—that effectively offer vertical and horizontal spaces, surrounded by large market spaces, big chain of restaurants, space for recreation and events, schools and libraries, among other essentials, that would complete a resident's personal and professional needs. In short, these combine both vertical and horizontal elements in an area, within an approximately 10-minute walking distance to core activities.

A global success

Most of the developed nations permit mixed-use development. In 1986, Canada had allowed a zoning bylaw allowing commercial and residential units to be mixed to deal with social housing needs. Today, major cities in Canada allow development of high-rise condominiums with amenities and transit facilities. In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency helps local governments to determine how a city can be impacted by mixed-use development. Through such research, they can measure the geography, demographics, and land use characteristics in a city.

Basic criteria for the success of mixed-use developments include employment, population and consumer spending. Unlike the US which followed a zoning policy for long, Europe has always encouraged the city center's role as a main location for business, retail, restaurant, and entertainment activity.

Luxury laced and driven

Remarkably, modern mixed-used townships have become a perfect concoction of both luxury and affordability; luxurious from the perspective of amenities, facilities and huge open spaces with well-designed homes. Developers need to pay more attention to detail, that customers long for, such as large open spaces, modern retail, a variety of entertainment and dining options, parks for children, recreational spaces and health clubs.

In fact, a mixed-use development is not just about providing or replicating standard amenities that can be seen in a more well-heeled premises. Many developers would agree that the end-users appreciate and cherish open spaces and amenities that make their lives comfortable besides the efficient use of the land. However, what is usually forgotten is that common areas within residential and commercial spaces allow people to meet by chance or intentionally, which promotes the strength of communities. Surveys show that people living in residences—within the mixed-use developments—are usually quite gratified to have smaller personal living space in exchange for larger common amenities.

Fitness centers, swimming pools, children's play area and club houses figure on the checklist of today's urban dwellers, looking for social connections. With the millennials hogging the buying space, developers are innovating and ensuring that they have state-of-the-art ideas to catch their attention; hence 'happening' coffee shops to cultural activity spaces get higher priority over mere cycling lanes.

Sensible investment

Besides the economic, environmental and health benefits, developers make a conscious effort to make it fun and lively to be in a mixed-use development, often the environment may feel familiar and nostalgic where residents would love to connect with others. In terms of value and appreciation, such communities get higher demand due to the right mix; since these projects integrate residential, retail and commercial business, investors are relatively protected by cyclical downturns. Even if the retail investment softens, they may get sustained income from residential properties.

Globally, research shows mixed-use developments could lessen the impact of a poorly performing asset within the overall investment portfolio for realty investors. A diversified 'stronger together' approach makes a healthy portfolio for developers as well. A mix of retail, commercial and residential ensures that all the eggs are not in the same basket.

Kamal Khetan

Chairman and Managing Director, Sunteck Realty

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