Mixed Use or Mess Use?


The rich tapestry of the urban fabric of a city is composed of a mix of uses. These uses may be mixed vertically with shops on the ground floor and housing above, or horizontally with the corner store embedded into a residential neighborhood. This mix of uses is a prerequisite for sustainable communities.

Contemporary design and project financing also encourages mixed use. The variety of uses provides a diversified portfolio. Market demand can also be guaranteed if you can generate trips or complementary uses within a development.

However, the combination becomes more of a mess than a mix. During my recent travels to Louisville, Kentucky for the Congress for the New Urbanism, I came across one of these messes. I am not sure if we should reward the leasing agent or the developer for the most ingenious and least complementary mix of uses in a single building.

Located on 4th Street in the heart of the Theater District, I found this incredible mix of uses: Parking Garage, Day Care, and Bar, combination. The daycare occupies one-half of the street frontage. Throughout the day, you could see through the shopfront windows the children happily at play. Late into the afternoon, the other half of the building comes to life with music, food and cocktails. Layered on top of all of this are several floors of parking.

In general, a mix of uses within a single mixed-use development are complementary or supportive of each other. In this case, I have to stretch the mind in complex gymnastics to understand the connections.

Let me break it down.

  • The parking garage provides hundreds of parking spaces. The number of spaces exceed the parking requirements of the most auto centric regulations in the country. It is also one of a dozen parking structures within two blocks of this location. The good news is every Kentuckian has 2-3 parking spaces downtown for their use.
  • A daycare is an important and viable use. The center was only open during business hours, so it is meeting a downtown work need. It was not open at night when the theaters were occupied, so it fulfills a morning/daytime active use category. It is very odd that the daycare is attached to a parking garage, because all of the occupants of the daycare are too young to drive, and it is very unlikely their parents are working at this location.
  • The bar appeared to be nice and defiantly filled before and after events at the adjacent theaters. However, the irony of a bar next to a daycare is priceless. The parents picking up their children at the daycare were very unlikely to stop off here for a cocktail. If they stopped in before picking up their children, the day care would most likely call protective services. If you attempted in stopping after picking up your children, the host would remind you that a bar is no place for a three year old. As a parent who uses daycare, I would feel weird even on Saturday date night going out to party next to my child’s daycare.
  • A bar and parking garage is also an unlikely and dangerous combination. Responsible adults should not drive themselves to a bar and assume that they will be driving themselves home. Like a daycare, it is very unlikely the patrons of the bar will demand garage parking.
  • Humor and irony aside, we should praise and support a mix of uses. It is not easy to develop a site that includes more than one use. This does however make us ponder, is this really mixed-use or is it really messed use?