Mixed-use development

Evidence Rating  
Scientifically Supported
Evidence rating: Scientifically Supported

Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.

Health Factors  
Community in Action

Mixed-use development supports a combination of land uses within a project rather than developing an area for a single purpose. Mixed-use development projects can be site-specific, neighborhood-based, or regional, and can be incorporated into new development, redevelopment, brownfield, and Smart Growth initiatives in urban and rural areas. Mixed-use development areas have high densities and incorporate places to work, shop, or play within residential areas. Such development is sometimes required through municipal zoning regulations or encouraged through Smart Growth initiatives and neighborhood planning efforts.

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased physical activity

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased active transportation

  • Improved health outcomes

  • Reduced vehicle miles traveled

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that design and land use policies, including mixed-use development, increase physical activity, especially when combined with transportation system interventions such as developing public transit infrastructure and sidewalks or trails1, 2, 3. Mixed-use development initiatives that include interventions to improve bicycle or pedestrian transportation systems also increase opportunities for active transportation1.

In mixed-use development areas, people walk and ride bicycles more often than in single use development areas2, 3, 4, 5. Children who live in Smart Growth neighborhoods with more green space appear to engage in more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), as well as more physical activity with friends and within walking distance of their homes than peers in conventional neighborhoods6, 7, 8. Replacing automotive trips with biking and walking in mixed-use development areas can reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change5, 9. Mixed-use development and Smart Growth strategies can also successfully sustain and promote active living in rural and suburban areas10, 11.

Mixed-use development is a suggested strategy to reduce transportation costs, increase economic opportunity, household wealth, and mobility, and enhance neighborhood cultural diversity12. Combining mixed-use development with regional transportation plans and transit-oriented development efforts may increase the effectiveness of Smart Growth policies13, 14.

Mixed-use development typically produces net societal economic, social, and environmental benefits, especially when plans result in dense development in relatively central locations with good access to transit15. Regional mixed-use development efforts can also reduce the cost of public transportation infrastructure and services12, 16. One feasibility study suggests that greyfields (e.g., empty parking lots, closed or dying shopping centers) and redfields (e.g., foreclosed commercial real estate) are more successfully and cost-effectively transformed into mixed-use developments than brownfields (e.g., contaminated lands) or greenfields (e.g., open, undeveloped areas)17.

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

Mixed-use development is happening across the country, often as part of Smart Growth projects. In 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency granted its National Awards for Smart Growth Achievement to Jackson, TN; Hamilton, OH; and Newark, NJ for their innovative use of mixed-use development18.

Non-profit organizations can support site-specific mixed-use development projects throughout a region, for example, the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation in Oakland, CA and the greater East Bay area19. Individual organizations can also support efforts around the country, as in the Congress for New Urbanism20. The Smart Growth Network, a partnership of non-profit, business, and government organizations, also supports mixed-use development and smart growth projects throughout the US21.

Via Verde in the Bronx, NY is an example of a mixed-use development housing project22.

Implementation Resources

HPBD - Healthy Places by Design (HPBD). Advances community-led action and proven, place-based strategies to ensure health and wellbeing for all.

MA EOHED-Mixed-use - Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (MA EOHED). Mixed-use development/transit oriented development.

SGO-Resources - Smart Growth Online (SGO). Smart growth resources.

US EPA-Trip generation - US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). Mixed-use trip generation model.

NACCHO-Community Design - National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO). Healthy community design toolkit.

WI DOA-Gilman 2007 - Gilman J, Stoll L, Schuette A, et al. Wisconsin comprehensive planning: Implementation guide toolkit. Stevens Point: Center for Land Use Education, Wisconsin Department of Administration (WI DOA), Global Environmental Management Education Center (GEM), University of Wisconsin Extension; 2007.

LHC-Toolkit 2009 - Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC). Action strategies toolkit: A guide for local and state leaders working to create healthy communities and prevent childhood obesity. Princeton: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF); 2009.

ICMA-Mishkovsky 2010 - Mishkovsky N, Dalbey M, Bertaina S, Read A, McGalliard T. Putting Smart Growth to work in rural communities. Washington, DC: International City/County Management Association (ICMA); 2010.

US DOT-PBIC - US Department of Transportation (US DOT), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC).

LHC-Rockeymoore 2014 - Rockeymoore M, Moscetti C, Fountain A. Rural childhood obesity prevention toolkit. Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC), Center for Global Policy Solutions, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; 2014.

ULI Building healthy places - Urban Land Institute (ULI) Building Healthy Places Initiative. Building healthy places toolkit: Strategies for enhancing health in the built environment.

LISC-Affordable housing - Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). Helping neighbors build communities: Affordable housing.

CG-BE resources - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Physical activity: Built environment (BE) approaches combining transportation system interventions with land use and environmental design: Additional materials.

PAS-Zoning 2016 - Planning Advisory Service (PAS). Planning & zoning for health in the built environment. American Planning Association (APA); 2016.

SRTSNP-Safe routes to healthy foods - Safe Routes to School National Partnership (SRTSNP). Healthy communities: Safe routes to healthy foods.

LHS - Local Housing Solutions (LHS). To enhance local affordability and foster inclusive communities. New York University, Furman Center and Abt Associates, Inc.


* Journal subscription may be required for access.

1 CG-Physical activity - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Physical activity.

2 Brownson 2006* - Brownson RC, Haire-Joshu D, Luke DA. Shaping the context of health: A review of environmental and policy approaches in the prevention of chronic diseases. Annual Review of Public Health. 2006;27:341-70.

3 Saelens 2008 - Saelens BE, Handy SL. Built environment correlates of walking: A review. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2008;40(7 Suppl):S550-66.

4 CDC MMWR-Khan 2009 - Khan LK, Sobush K, Keener D, et al. Recommended community strategies and measurements to prevent obesity in the United States. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). 2009;58(RR-07):1-26.

5 US EPA-Kramer 2013 - Kramer MG. Our built and natural environments: A technical review of the interactions among land use, transportation, and environmental quality. Washington, DC: US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA); 2013.

6 Dunton 2012 - Dunton GF, Intille SS, Wolch J, Pentz MA. Investigating the impact of a smart growth community on the contexts of children’s physical activity using Ecological Momentary Assessment. Health & Place. 2012;18(1):76–84.

7 Almanza 2012 - Almanza E, Jerrett M, Dunton G, Seto E, Pentz MA. A study of community design, greenness, and physical activity in children using satellite, GPS and accelerometer data. Health & Place. 2012;18(1):46–54.

8 Jerrett 2013* - Jerrett M, Almanza E, Davies M, et al. Smart growth community design and physical activity in children. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2013;45(4):386-392.

9 Salon 2012* - Salon D, Boarnet MG, Handy S, Spears S, Tal G. How do local actions affect VMT? A critical review of the empirical evidence. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment. 2012;17(7):495-508.

10 Dalbey 2008* - Dalbey M. Implementing smart growth strategies in rural America: Development patterns that support public health goals. Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. 2008;14(3):238-43.

11 Dunham-Jones 2009 - Dunham-Jones E, Williamson J. Retrofitting suburbia: Urban design solutions for redesigning suburbs. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley; 2009.

12 Litman 2017 - Litman T. Selling smart growth: Communicating the direct benefits of more accessible, multi-modal locations to households, businesses and governments. Victoria, BC: Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI); 2017.

13 Moeckel 2017 - Moeckel R, Lewis R. Two decades of smart growth in Maryland (USA): Impact assessment and future directions of a national leader. Urban, Planning and Transport Research. 2017;5(1):22-37.

14 Nahlik 2014* - Nahlik MJ, Chester MV. Transit-oriented smart growth can reduce life-cycle environmental impacts and household costs in Los Angeles. Transport Policy. 2014;35:21-30.

15 Chatman 2016 - Chatman DG, Rayle L, Gabbe CJ, et al. Analyzing the economic benefits and costs of smart growth. 2016.

16 Litman 2017a - Litman T. Understanding smart growth savings: Evaluating economic savings and benefits of compact development, and how they are misrepresented by critics. Victoria, BC: Victoria Transport Policy Institute (VTPI); 2017.

17 Laitos 2013* - Laitos JG, Abel TM. Sites suitable for mixed use development in Britain and America. Kenna P, ed. International Journal of Law in the Built Environment. 2013;5(2):137-155.

18 US EPA-Smart Growth - US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). Smart Growth: Program, resources, topics, partnerships, and the 2015 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement.

19 EBALDC-Healthy neighborhoods - East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC). Building healthy, vibrant and safe neighborhoods.

20 CNU-Building places - Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU). Building places people love.

21 SGO-Smart growth - Smart Growth Online (SGO). Smart Growth: Supporting the development of vibrant, healthy communities

22 Via Verde-Green living - Via Verde, Center for Active Design. Via Verde: A new model for affordable, healthy, and green urban living.

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