Canberra's mixed use precincts lead to a community that thrives

Mixed use developments, the bringing together of residential, retail and work elements can have a positive impact on our community.

Picture a thriving building or precinct – an ideal image would include people living, working, and playing in a neighbourhood with a vibrant street culture. Additionally, with convenient amenities and meaningful place-making, there's little reason to leave the area if you choose not to.

The government's ambitious city and gateway renewal initiative and stated plans to increase our city centre's population fundamentally envisions buildings that multi-task. Precincts theoretically become economic generators in their own right, with retail businesses finding a ready market of customers living and working in the precinct.

The opportunities are exciting, with a multitude of possible innovative variables. Developments need not be large glass and steel edifices. They could also include creative adaptive reuse initiatives.

Good design can meet multiple interests, and there is room for government, industry, and the community to work together on this.

Get the mix of residential, commercial and retail right, and the building economics will stack up for owners. First, mixed-use buildings can act like a diversified investment portfolio, which buffer owners from potential oversupply or undersupply in the rental market. Second, there are potential cost-benefit advantages in a building being used 24/7.

Ironically, walk through an old inner city neighbourhood and you'll see many elements of successful mixed-use examples. The marriage of residential, work, and retail spaces are apparent, and the human-scale of the buildings and the walkability of these areas are equally noticeable.

Truth is, mixed-used developments built from scratch, especially in a planned city like Canberra is not an easy venture. Although there has been considerable positive change in mindset on mixed-used developments – we're in essence playing catch up with legislation.

Our industry first movers in this space should be commended, and with projects like Nishi recently shortlisted in the World Architecture Festival in Berlin, we have much to be proud of in our city.

First published in the Sydney Morning Herald, 23 July 2016.