Are Residences and Non-Residential Uses Compatible When Near Each Other?

By Dom Nozzi

In America, residents of neighborhoods have come to expect business and industrial activity to be toxic, noisy, or likely to attract lots of big and dangerous truck volumes. These understandable concerns – particularly at the dawn of the industrial revolution in the early 20th Century – mean that for most people, industrial, retail or office development is considered to be incompatible with residential areas (or anywhere at all in the community).strip6

Advocates for compact, walkable community and neighborhood design often hear these concerns expressed when compact, “mixed-use” development is recommended. But there are three things to know about this commonly-used, squelcher objection to compact development.

First, such noisy or toxic businesses have dramatically reduced in number since the turn of the last century. As a result, zoning-based separation is now much less necessary to protect homes from toxic or noisy businesses. Unlike 100 years ago, it is now fairly easy and common today to design most all businesses or offices to be compatible with residential areas.

Why continue using an anachronistic “separation-of-uses” regulatory scheme that was designed to confront problems that society faced 100 years ago, but one that we almost never face today? I suspect the reason most elected folks maintain this outdated method is that continuing to use the old system is a way to make emotional, counterproductive NIMBYs less infuriated. Or else they themselves continue to believe that an office or shop near their home would degrade residential property values.Chapel4

If we are paying more than lip service to making it feasible for people to walk or bicycle regularly, we need to get serious and largely dump zoning-based regulation to dramatically reduce trip distances. Note that despite a widespread suburban value system throughout most of America, many communities are slowly increasing the proportion of properties carrying a mixed-use zoning.

Secondly, the new urbanist Smart Code (which is now a free-to-use download without copyright protection) recognizes the existence of various locally-undesirable-land uses (LULUs). The Smart Code therefore assign such uses (airports are a good example) to “special districts” remote from the community. That allows a nearly complete elimination of the need to separate land uses, with the exception of a tiny fraction of certain especially unusual uses.

Thirdly, even if it were true that we must have zoning-based separation, it is just another sign that our society is unsustainable (because it is inherently car-dependent).

Unless we start building a more sustainable (read: compact) world, we’re heading for a train wreck.


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Or email me at: dom[AT]

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1 Comment

Filed under Bicycling, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

One response to “Are Residences and Non-Residential Uses Compatible When Near Each Other?

  1. Britt Donnelly


    I loved the article and didn’t realize how prolific you were in 2009, seems that I have a lot more reading ahead of me. I have a lot to learn from your wisdom, Britt

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