food for thought

mixed use or mixed cliché

The term “mixed use” expresses an urban concept that promotes the integration of housing, commerce, services, culture and industry, believing that this will lead to a more efficient space use, while encouraging interaction between users with varying needs. Although the idea is fundamental to any organic settlement, it is absent from most (too) well-calculated modern cities.

Actually negating the zoning theory, the idea of mixed use was reintegrated into modern town planning during the seventies’. The idea is based on four interactive drives: crime development in industrial zones abandoned at night; an attempt to shorten distances between housing, commercial and industrial areas in order to decrease traffic jams; public response to urban fabric destruction caused by Brutalist architecture (hence its name) beneath megalomaniac piles of concrete that devastated most city centers; and in turn, awakening the preservation trend, realizing the importance of architectural heritage in local identity.

In this framework, attempts were made to restore the city’s traditional organs - while preserving buildings of historical value in an urban continuum of streets (as opposed to roads), squares and gardens. Namely – an organic formation that developed gradually and randomly as a result of many intentions, rather than an overly domineering one.

However, an automatic use of this potent idea has in recent years become a two-sided sword – when building plans are made according to the marketing interests of entrepreneurs, orienting the building market in an opposite direction, particularly when it comes to exclusive complexes where the key word is spatial-isolation.

No less interesting is that mixed use is encouraged by planning authorities who, on one hand are supposed to promote a better space use, but on the other, bless the “rain” of hundreds of billions that come from property taxes. Thus, the organic cliché has essentially become a type of kosher certificate for real estate oriented creations, allowing entrepreneurs to change building purposes according to their marketing needs, while encouraging corrupt capital/governing ties.

In this reality, it is corruption that dictates the face of the state, let alone decision-makers’ faces, some of whom, to our shame, must practice leisure time in prison, God forbid – like in Argentine, France, or London (see following article).

There is no need to go too deep to understand that this magic circle, which involves all movers of the building market – the authorities, entrepreneurs, architects and clients – constitutes a ridiculous attempt to eat the cake and expect it to remain whole, while terms such as social detachment and spatial connection are in rational conflict, which on an urban level is evidenced in the obsessive separation between pedestrians and vehicles, whose owners themselves become pedestrians as soon as they activate their parking software.

It’s worth mentioning that the trend of urban preservation that developed during the 70s’ focused on the Main Street, assuming that it represented the essence of the place. However, this goodwill also expresses a basic misunderstanding by urban planners. They keep turning the Main street into a pedestrian walkway detaching it from the surroundings, where all cultural functions are deliberately located – the City-Square, the market place, the theatre and prayer house– whether it’s a synagogue, church, mosque or temple, deliberately made remote from the main street for security reasons.

And no less serious is the fact that in this process, important buildings turn into museum exhibits, while the urban fabric that developed over the years loses its meaning.

Concrete examples of this are the Sarona Gardens in Tel Aviv or Sokolov Street in Herzeliya, which in its prime, was connected with the market, City Hall and the main synagogue. And today – after turning parts of it into a pedestrian walkway, it functions like the disadvantaged sister of Herzeliya Pituach.

By the way, if anyone from Herzeliya is insulted, relax, it happens everywhere, where historic cities lose their uniqueness and look like copy/paste towns, where tourists who come to get a taste of a place, are made to quench their thirst in international brand stores.

Contributing to this are the uniform Street signs that someone in the business licensing department who was bored decided should be restrained, as well as the Urban Design Guide that prevents any personal creative expression.

And if this isn’t enough, erasing local identity is probably also evident inside the buildings - Malls, theaters, and particularly hotels, whose rooms lose their uniqueness in order to look like a ridiculous Trivago advertisement.

Hence, exclusivity and personal expression reserved only for the few, deprives “mixed use” of its significance, not only by distinguishing between what is different, but by connecting what is similar.

In this reality, there is neither room for random development, nor reduction of distances between residential, commerce, and places of employment. Nor is there interaction between various users, neutralizing the unique identity of a place.
Interestingly, though, there is a rationale behind the yearning for uniform order, which was preceded by the Post Modern fantasy riot, particularly expressed in the ‘Build your own home’ projects - which evoked on one hand a nostalgic yearning for Modernist order, while for the general public it was a perceived as a liberation from its severe, monotonous appearance.

It’s worth noting that while “mixed use” enables random development according to circumstances, it might serve as a basis for conflict, since what makes one person happy may mean no peace of mind for someone else. And there are infinite examples of this.

This is exactly why theorists define a “good city” as “a place in which one can meet friends, but also get lost”, or “a good party where you stay longer than you intended.”

I personally believe that a city, like reality in general, is an unresolved battlefield between various users: pedestrians vs. electric bicycles and vehicles; tenants vs. house owners; those who invite vs those invited; buyers vs. sellers; those who must make noise vs those who long for peace; residents vs the municipality actually supposed to represent them, but doesn’t always remember it; cops vs robbers (depending on your point of view); secular vs religious; women vs men; young vs old; capital vs governing - and the list remains open to suggestion.

This reminds me that a few years ago, looking for peace and quiet, I travelled to the Greek island of Paros - a pale version of Santorini, though inhabited by certain “religious” people who see no necessity for wearing a swimsuit on the beach.

Arriving at the Aegean island, we stayed in a villa that fearlessly dipped its feet into the seawater, allowing the restrained waves to accompany the sleepy rhythm of our breath.

Suddenly, without prior warning - except for the tourist brochure which stated that the island is also suitable for the young - the blessed quiet vanished in an onslaught of thundering bass-rich sounds of rock music, which not even three cushions could silence. We lay awake until grass and adrenalin filled the dancers and they fell into their daily slumber at 7am.
Today I know that in order to experience the true meaning of “mixed use”, there is no need to go as far as the Aegean Islands; evidence of which are the “Muezzins Law”, the “Supermarket Law”, the “Private Swimming Pool Regulations”, and the law of my nouveau riche neighbor from the south, who is certain that I need to pay with my peace of mind for the music roaring out of his new speakers he has fixed to the fence between us.

So the question is what?…
Today, when confusing alternatives of urban renewal are on the agenda, and knowing that they don’t really contribute to tenants, but rather to entrepreneurs drowning in money, and local authorities who would also like to… it would be a good idea to re-examine the misguided urban cliché of “mixed use” - and the sooner the better.