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Mixed use comes full circle – dating back to Roman times

You’d be forgiven for thinking the phrase “Live, work, play” was coined by modern property developers to sell a new urban lifestyle. But it’s actually rooted in a way of life that goes back a very long way.

The desire to live close to where we do business, enjoy our leisure time, or interact with our community, is far more about our ancient evolution than our contemporary present.

As humans, we’ve been seeking out these attributes in our surroundings since we first grouped together in sophisticated societies, as far back as the seeds of civilisation when villages were first established to bring communities together.

The very first mixed-use complexes can be traced back to the Romans, who built large multi-use constructions throughout the empire. Medieval homes also used to be places where people lived and manufactured, as well as sold their wares. It wasn’t until the industrial revolution that people really started to separate their homes from their industry or trade environments.

As cities grew, the desire to separate even further from places of business led to the growth of suburban areas, which ultimately caused long hours and a large portion of our income being spent on transportation.

“But as the world moves from a manufacturing to a service-driven industry, and the technological ‘fourth’ revolution takes hold, the desire is once again there for the benefits of a mixed-used and village-type environment, that not only offers a live, work, play lifestyle but a return to community life,” says Nicholas Stopforth, Managing Director of Amdec Property Developments, owners and operators of one of South Africa’s most established and successful mixed-use precincts, Melrose Arch in Johannesburg.

Ways of living and doing business have evolved over centuries. As cities have grown, available land has decreased in size and increased in price. Even property ownership models have evolved, and thus the onus is on property developers to come up with innovative solutions that incorporate the increasing complexities of fast-paced urban areas into a desirable lifestyle model.

“Mixed use combines various different types of property with wide-ranging uses, from residential, retail and hospitality, to commercial office space and public areas, each drawing in different types of people, who interact with and sustain each other. You’re not only buying into a residential concept or renting an office; you’re benefiting both financially and in terms of lifestyle, from the mix of different property types.” – Nicholas Stopforth, Amdec Property Developments.

In many ways, the return to a mixed-used environment is a response to technology influencing our lives and detaching us from each other. “We live in a world increasingly shaped by social media, which supposedly ‘connects’ us, but in actual fact distances us from the personal contact that we thrive on as human beings. A built environment can mitigate this problem. People who live, work and relax in close proximity to each other can establish much-needed real emotional and physical relationships,” says Stopforth.

“The idea behind mixed-used development embraces this interaction,” he explains. “Particularly as mixed use combines various different types of property with wide-ranging uses, from residential, retail and hospitality, to commercial office space and public areas, each drawing in different types of people, who interact with and sustain each other. In other words,” says Stopforth, “you’re not only buying into a residential concept or renting an office; you’re benefiting both financially and in terms of lifestyle, from the mix of different property types.”

There are numerous other advantages that mixed-used developments can offer, among the most important being better energy efficiency and sustainability, and greater integration with public transportation.

Other important features are increased safety and security, as well as operations teams that are able to coordinate everything from the incorporation of new technological advancements, to the overall upkeep of the built environment, particularly when a development offers extensive public spaces and pedestrian-friendly walkways.

“These have all been vital considerations in our own mixed-used developments,” Stopforth says.

The Amdec Group’s developments include Melrose Arch in Johannesburg and The Yacht Club in Cape Town. They are also developing the R15 billion Harbour Arch precinct, which will transform the Cape Town skyline.

The ancient Romans would have approved of these contemporary adaptations of a concept they initiated so many centuries ago!