2012 Asia Pacific Summit

Mixed-use development is a holistic practice, according to panelists at the Urban Land Institute’s Asia Pacific Summit, held last week in Beijing. Developments may include a mix of retail, office, residential, and hospitality uses, but the whole development’s links to and position in its community are as important as the mix itself.

Mixed-use development was the pattern for mankind’s earliest urbanization as the first communities lived, worked, and played together, noted panel moderator Richard Vogel, senior vice president and general manager of Ivanhoe Cambridge China. However, the Industrial Age brought the need to separate factories from homes, leading to a separation of uses that lasted until the late 20th century and caused fractured and car-dependent cities.

Now, “mixed-use developments mean we stop thinking so much about buildings as buildings but as communities,” said Vogel. These substantial and often iconic developments are a weighty undertaking, crucial to the regeneration and improvement of cities, particularly in rapidly urbanizing countries such as China and India.

A crucial part of the integration of a mixed-use project into the city is its transport links, said architect Christina Woo, a former Skidmore, Owings & Merrill partner who worked on London’s Canary Wharf development. The Docklands project famously went bust in the 1990s, as a direct result of the lack of public transportation infrastructure, said Woo. Canary Wharf became a success only after the Jubilee Line extension linked it to the rest of London’s underground rail network.

Mixed-use developments also need less tangible links to the city, said Kaga Yoichi, general manager, Hong Kong, for Mitsui Fudosan. Kaga, who worked on Mitsui’s 6.6-acre (2.7 ha) Tokyo Midtown development, said: “The developer needs to be part of the community. The development needs to improve the psychological as well as physical environment.” Mitsui worked to communicate with locals in Roppongi, where the project is located, to ensure that they felt part of the development.

Tokyo Midtown also provides open community space and “walkability,” something learned from Shanghai Xintiandi, one of the first place-making developments in China, which incorporated a mix of building sizes and car-free streets. “Mitsui was impressed by the inflow and outflow of people that the development allowed,” said Kaga.

There is no perfect mix for a mixed-use development; what is important is whether it is somewhere people want to live and work, said Hoke Slaughter, head of Morgan Stanley Real Estate Investing Asia. However, he added that each development will have one component that drives it. “You need to look at the mix of the development and see what the driver is; you need to have a driver.”

Henry Cheng, chief executive of Chongbang Group, a Chinese developer, insisted that retail was the key driver of all mixed-use developments—particularly in China, where it is favored by the government and where shopping is a growing leisure activity.
The panelists agreed that a mixed-use developer needs to be an expert, equally adept in creating all the uses within the project and “obsessed with detail.” It is not an easy discipline, Slaughter pointed out. “In big mixed-use projects, you often find that it’s the second or third guy who makes the money; the first guy in goes bust a lot of the time.”

ULI–the Urban Land Institute