Research Desk
Examples of Forward Thinking Mini Hub Development
New zoning plans should not only focus on supporting additional residential units, but should also prioritize greater mixed-use commercial zones, where residential development goes hand-in-hand with the establishment of new local businesses and high-value companies. The city of San Rafael’s Downtown Precise Plan makes use of a more integrated planning scheme that directly weaves together everyday businesses, restaurants, office spaces, and leisure spaces in order to create a cohesive, multi-faceted shared urban social space (Source 22B).
The San Rafael, CA Downtown Precise plan outlines the increased density permitted in the downtown core of the city
By creating zoning plans which allow city residents to travel more easily between their homes and the businesses where they work or spend money, governments will see an increase in both quality of life and economic growth. Overall, mixed-use zoning refers to a combination of both commercial spaces and residential spaces, usually taking form in storefronts on the first floor, and residential units located from the second floor and above (Source 30).
However over time, mixed-use zoning has been used to more broadly refer to the general integration of living spaces with every other aspect of city space usage, including local businesses, community centers, parks, and all other public urban utilities. Most importantly, mixed-use spaces generate a greater level of foot traffic over a wider portion of the day, and particularly during midday during the week. San Rafael, similar to most small to medium cities, has a downtown which is predominantly served by businesses in the service and retail sectors. Both of which rely heavily on daytime traffic.
The early stages of the Covid pandemic, with lockdowns and restricted business hours, highlighted the major economic risk of zoning that treats suburban satellite cities as “bedroom communities”, where the bulk of the population that earns disposable income commutes elsewhere, and most residential neighborhoods are not within walking distance of the city center. In major urban cores, the mix of very high density office buildings with retail allows for a high volume of daytime foot traffic. Whereas in a bedroom community, most of that foot traffic comes either in the early morning, evening, or weekends. In a work-from-home environment, that limited foot traffic is even further eroded by e-commerce and delivery services.
Pre-Covid in 2019, the City of San Rafael's tax revenue was heavily dependent on sales tax from retail services.
The city’s Downtown Precise Plan has made those two things a priority, paving a path for conversion of vacant commercial space into high density mixed use or residential buildings. Increasing the degree to which parts of San Rafael makes use of mixed-use spaces would thereby increase the number of people moving through the city’s businesses during all parts of the day, which would generate greater tax revenue through higher levels of sales, which have generally declined due to the rising shift towards online shopping (Source 31, 32).
Mixed-use zones have not only resulted in higher levels of satisfaction from both residents and business owners, but they have also encouraged greater social cohesion. Having a zoning plan which allows for greater flexibility, while still maintaining requirements for affordable units and sustainably-priced business lots, gives cities the chance to grow with the long-term in mind. Sustainable zoning which prioritizes liveability and growth has been shown to have widespread benefits over the long-run, with more stable rent prices, higher job growth, and healthier business operations (Source 25). Though long-time residents of neighborhoods at times see new zoning laws as a declining of living standards, restrictive zoning actually depresses wage growth for the city, which includes high-income residents.
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