Placemaking interviews with Dallas Fort Worth Real Estate Experts

Placemaking interviews with Dallas Fort Worth Real Estate Experts

Placemaking interviews with Dallas Fort Worth Real Estate Experts

Perspectives on Placemaking

Industry experts give their viewpoint on Placemaking and Mixed-Use

Scott Rohrman - Founder: 42 Real Estate LLC

Q: What components are required for a successful mixed-use development?

Our mood, outlook, and disposition are directly influenced by where we live out our lives. The feeling we innately sense in the middle of our surroundings tends to bleed into our very nature. The architecture, landscape, and view corridors we experience are perspectives we carry over into our internal context, acting on our thoughts and actions with us rarely knowing their effect. However, studying people and their tendencies gives real estate developers clues as to how to enhance rather than detract from this dance of life in the midst of man-made structures. 

Why is it that night after night a certain patio has the same end full of people while the other end only has people in it when there is no more room anywhere else? It is because for some mysterious reason the customers have an innate sense that one end provides a superior experience over the other end? We all ask why. We don’t always agree on the answer. 

Why is it that sometimes all the services and amenities one needs are in one place, but the customer traffic is too low to support all the businesses providing those services? We ask why all the time. We don’t always perceive the answer. However, through quiet reflection, reading, research, interviews, and mentor input, I have developed my own general theoretical answer about how this happens. The theoretical answer can be stated in one word: relationships. 

Where relationships flourish, places are born. There is that word: places. I can’t get away from this word and I don’t even know how to define it. I think the word or concept of place is a lot like the quote famously used in 1964 by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart when he said that he may never succeed in defining pornography, but “I know it when I see it”. Place is like that. We can’t define place, but place is known instantly by almost everyone when they experience it.

Place is created in many ways in our environments including but not limited to inputs such as familiarity, structure, emotion, light, materials, height, temperature, perspective, and color. But in my opinion, the most reliable creative input for a specific environment to become a place is relationships. We all want to develop environments where people say, “That is a place I want to frequent”. See, the word place is there. 

Relationships create places. How does a person relate to the environment? Does the environment foster relationships with other people? Does the environment relate to the human parts of us: mind, emotion, physical and will? Does the environment cause us to relate to a stimulant causing an experience in us that stretches us or challenges us? If so, then that environment ceases to be simply an environment, but rather becomes a place. Some environments can be a place for some but not for others. Therefore, design and development should identify the relationships desired. 

However, many times the desired outcome is lost because the process drives the decisions. Sometimes profit drives a taller building to maximize the land value, but the height overpowers the people. Sometimes the desire is to have a list of as many uses as possible so leasing agents can pitch something for everyone, but the site itself does not foster the relationships of people to use. 

Mixed-use projects are simply environments where multiple uses are installed. One can develop a mixed use project with or without relationship building as a focus and outcome, but it if human relationships are ignored, the project will simply be a mixed-use project—a project where uses are mixed. However, a place where relationships with other people, the buildings, and the views are the leading design criteria, then place is discovered. 

Q: The words “placemaking” and “mixed-use” are often intermingled. How do you differentiate between the two?

Scott Rohrman

 I don’t think Michelangelo picked just any block of marble to carve “David” out of it. I think Michelangelo perceived the David inside a particular block of marble. 

I think it is a developer’s responsibility to discern aspects of a particular environment and develop that environment’s qualities and characteristics. I believe many times developers buy a tract of land, then meaning well, hire architects and consultants to have them “make” a place through designing multiple uses mixed together on that tract of land. The project is designed with the uses all mixed together, but that project’s place by default is not considered in the overall fabric of the broader context, due to multiple ownerships and other restraints. 

However, I do think developers can enhance the discovery of place in a particular environment with contemplative design. I was recently in Washington, D.C. It has a lot of “places.” However, it also has a lot of mixed-use environments that will never become places. 

At one new project, the developer built a wonderful office tower with condos in it and the leasing is fast and furious and above proforma due to its proximity to government offices. However, the ground floor was designed as “mixed use.” They installed high-end retailers and popular restaurants (with subsidies), a courtyard, a light show, a water fountain, and expensive landscaping. The courtyard is full and overflowing during office hours because the land is near desired centers of business and government and companies have filled it with office workers. To exit or enter the building one has to pass through the courtyard. 

However, as soon as working hours are over, the courtyard empties. There are no people in this area. The condo residents exit the courtyard on their way to places for the evening and the restaurants are destinations. The courtyard is emptily crying out for relationships. It is destitute because even though it is mixed use, it has nothing to offer other than a label and an expensive passageway with a lot of “toys.” No one is experiencing a place that fosters relationships. 

I admit I do not know how to create a place. I simply discover them sometimes, and sometimes I miss out on them. However, I do know that focusing on the people in the environment is the right starting point. 


“From my builder/owner point of view, ‘placemaking’ and ‘mixed-use’ are two very different things. Mixed-use represents a mix of residential, retail, and office use all in one area or building. Placemaking may involve that same mix of uses, but must include additional items to create a place that can be described with the word “wow.” The “wow” factor is what creates place. And when we create place, it attracts people, and people make projects successful. ... The formula of entertainment, beauty, art, and safety will work in most areas to create thriving, successful places.”

DON DAY, Owner, DFA Ltd.

Q: The words “placemaking” and “mixed-use” are often intermingled. How do you differentiate between the two?

I have been involved in the renovation of downtown McKinney for approximately 20 years. My company has renovated more than 30 buildings in downtown McKinney and has constructed several new downtown buildings. Over that time, downtown McKinney has changed from a forgotten, bypassed, location to a thriving successful “place.” That change happened because of a joint public-private effort to add these three necessary elements:

• Entertainment. This has been a key component in downtown McKinney’s revitalization. In today’s America, people look for places where they can spend quality time. Entertainment in downtown McKinney involves food, drink, and music supplied by thriving establishments; art galleries; a historic Performing Art Center; and numerous privately owned boutique retail shops. Downtown McKinney went from one eatery 20 years ago to more than 20 such establishments today. Those restaurants, cafes, pubs, bars, and delis combined serve approximately 2 million meals each year. And many of those 2 million customers also visit our retails shops. The energy created while serving those customers attracts office users.

• Beauty. In addition to entertainment, we added beauty by restoring the historic buildings to original beauty and by the city adding a new pedestrian-friendly streetscape involving wider sidewalks, patios for dining, landscaping, safer streets and enhanced lighting. Beauty was also added with the placement of public art pieces, art galleries, and the performing arts center.

• Safety. Humans want to feel safe, and they will visit places where they feel safe. Downtown McKinney’s enhanced lighting, police bicycle patrols, and police horseback patrols add both charm and safety. Safety is one of the main pillars of civilized society. Without safety, commerce cannot thrive. In McKinney we support our police and appreciate them.

Because of these changes to McKinney’s downtown, the city was Money magazine’s pick for the best place to live in America last year, primarily because of its “gem of a downtown.” “Gem” translates to “wow.”

Q: What are some other successful “places” in Dallas-Fort Worth?

Downtown Fort Worth is a hugely successful place because of the same factors mentioned above. It has many beautiful buildings, it has entertainment, it has art museums, it has fine dining, it is safe and it is thriving.

Frisco is also a successful place, with its focus on sports entertainment, art, and quality developments. Allen has a place in the Watters Creek development which encompasses retail, office, and residential uses, along with art, entertainment, beauty, and safety.

These are just a few of the places that make Dallas-Fort Worth one of the fastest-growing urban areas in America today. The formula of entertainment, beauty, art, and safety will work in most areas to create thriving, successful places.


“Standard definitions aside, to me, ‘placemaking’ is about the social environment of the physical realm. When we engage in placemaking initiatives, we aim to create spaces for people that encourage creative collisions, interaction that crosses socio-economic divides, and experiences that enhance quality of life.”

KOURTNY GARRETT, Executive Vice President, Downtown Dallas Inc.

Q: The words “placemaking” and “mixed-use” are often intermingled. How do you differentiate between the two?
 The scale varies. Often we create these experiences through highly programmed initiatives driven by entertainment, wellness, or cultural value, or the same goals can be achieved through the creation of simple elegant spaces that encourage thought, reflection, or chance encounters. “Mixed-use” addresses the physical development.  It is the intermingling of uses—office, retail, and residential, for example—in a particular location, most prevalent today in downtown areas or urban centers. Within mixed-use developments, placemaking occurs, either by design or often spontaneously, as the uses interact to create gathering spots and shared space—particularly when the development incorporates great urban design principles.
Q:What components are required for a successful mixed-use development?
Successful mixed-use developments meaningfully integrate uses, as opposed to designing the different uses to operate parallel to one another. For example, residential, retail, office, and restaurant uses all have unique needs related to peak hours of use, ingress/egress, incorporation of public space, public transit and vehicular usage, walking paths, and so on. When the developer considers these needs holistically, the physical development then naturally creates the symbiotic social fabric that promotes place. Furthermore, the interaction and communication between the public and private realm of a mixed-use development is critical, with considerations such as ground floor design, which can balance human scale experiences no matter the overall size of the project.  And finally, consideration of adjacencies is a key trait of some of the most successful mixed use developments across the country. Too often, mixed-use projects are designed to be insular, self-sufficient, internalized communities that  turn their backs on surrounding neighborhoods. Instead, 360-degree development and design is not only good for the community, but also yields greater economic success for the project.
Q: What do you see for the future of urban planning in Dallas-Fort Worth?
Dallas-Fort Worth is on the cusp of a paradigmatic shift related to several fundamental planning issues. We are reevaluating how our transportation systems function (overall mobility), from highways to urban street grids and public transit, and how, particularly in our urban neighborhoods, overall consumer behavior is changing and priority is now on the pedestrian. Development and investment interest in the region is greater than we’ve seen in decades, fueling conversations about land use and neighborhood character. Building density is yet another burning topic, with the greatest opportunity for capacity and demand existing in the urban core. And in Downtown Dallas, specifically, a long list of catalyst and infill projects either completed in just the last five years or on the horizon in the next five, will recreate the physical and social core of our city.   
Q: If you were doing a map of “placemaking” developments in the region, which ones would be on your short list, and why?
Number one, of course, is downtown Dallas. But more specifically, through our strategic plan Downtown Dallas 360, we articulate that downtown is comprised of 15 districts, multiple neighborhoods, each of which offers a unique identity and experiences—placemaking—but all working together as a symbiotic whole.


“A successful mixed-used destination is not only sustained by those who live there, but is also well-connected within the community and attracts people from surrounding neighborhoods. A critical mass of people should want to be there and feel compelled to stay for a while. The infrastructure must be ‘sticky.’ By ‘sticky,’ I mean that the streets and sidewalks are more pedestrian-friendly than vehicle-friendly. Although good circulation is important, cars should not be able to speed through the streets, and people should feel comfortable walking around. Also, the offerings in the mixed-use project should satisfy several needs, such as work, services, food and beverage and entertainment, and cater to the demographic.”

HEATH JOHNSON, Managing Director of Commercial Development, Hines

Q: How do you define mixed-use?
I define mixed-use as simply a combination of more than one use, such as residential, office, retail, or hotel. However, placemaking is the next iteration of mixed-use development. The truly thriving destinations have a unique sense of character and community. They connect to the urban fabric in an authentic way that attracts people. Some successful examples of placemaking in Dallas-Fort Worth over the past several years include West Village in Dallas and Sundance Square in Fort Worth, which have both become 24/7 destinations.
Q: What components are required for a successful mixed-use development?
I like to use the three-legged stool analogy. You need all three components to work together, and each one of the legs should be thoughtful in its execution. First, there must be a sense of place. Second, a diversified and complementary tenant mix. Lastly, a warm and inviting urban design. One other thing that I haven’t mentioned, but could be the death of a mixed-use development if not completely addressed- adequate parking.

Jim Lake Jr. - CEO and Partner: Jim Lake Cos.
Q: The words “placemaking” and “mixed-use” are often intermingled. How do you differentiate between the two?
Placemaking, for us, is when you redevelop the project, you integrate it with a neighborhood. Over in Bishop Arts, we are on a grid, so we are not cut off from the neighborhood. We added bike racks and widened the sidewalks, making it more walkable and making it, particularly in the neighborhood, family-friendly. We don’t have late night hours over there. So we don’t disturb the neighbors. 
Jim Lake Jr.
Also, what we did unitentionally I later found out is a term called “friction.” There has to something interesting about every 30 feet or so, which is about the size of the storefronts. So there’s either a plant, a door, or something to keep you interested while you’re walking. And you know, a bench for a guy to sit on while his wife goes into a clothing store for 30 minutes. It’s those kinds of things that are important.
Q: What components are required for a successful mixed-use development?
I’ll use Jefferson Tower as an example of one of our successes, as well as Trinity Lofts. Jefferson Tower is a historic office building built in 1912. We’ve got an eight-story office component. We’ve got retail that we’ve just renovated and leasing on the ground floor. And we’ve got second-story lofts. So you get eyes on the street, you get activity, not only from the ground floor but also from above looking down on the streets. This improves what you see on the street in those areas where we are pioneering. 
The other mixed-use project we did was Trinity Lofts, the first residential project in the Design District. I’ve seen a lot of mixed-use done wrong, replicated across the nation by different apartment builders. In this case, we were already in the Design District and understood what the commercial market was. We felt that there was a need for residential and got the area rezoned to allow that. We built Trinity Lofts, a four-story project with ground-level retail and three stories of residential. We created two separate communities in there with surface parking. That’s another thing that I think is important–which we have both at Bishop Arts and at Jefferson Tower. I think it’s important that we knew the area and catered to that.
It doesn’t happen overnight. You have to be patient. You have to have staying power because it may not happen right away.


“The reason mixed-use places and districts or neighborhoods work so well is the energy that is created from densification. These areas are active 24/7/365, and the activity of each use adds value to the other uses. People want to be around other people and feel safer and more energized with others around, above, and below.”

TERRY MONTESI, CEO, Trademark Property Co.

Q: What components are required for a successful mixed-use development?
In my opinion, the components required for successful mixed-use development are two or more commercial uses, vertically integrated with enough critical mass of each use to successfully stand alone as a substantial project. For example, a multifamily project with 10,000 to 20,000 square feet of retail that is in a non-primary retail location is not a mixed-use project. Also, the location has to be a viable location for each use, and the uses should be more than a token effort or only included because of a municipal requirement. Otherwise, I believe most successful mixed-use projects need a shared public space of some significance and a shared parking arrangement also is key to most successful mixed-use developments.


“The sharing economy presages yet another iteration in the way in which real estate is supported and implemented. Between the evolution of communication and commerce, along with the simultaneous overlay of a generational hand-off from the consumer economy to the experience economy, cities and buildings inevitably echo the societal impact on a larger scale.”

MICHAEL ABLON, Principal, PegasusAblon


“People like active, memorable spaces, so you’ll see more of this. People are beginning to appreciate benefits of density and the way it contributes mightily to activity and placemaking. It wasn’t that long ago that density had a negative connotation. But with the advent of places like West Village, Legacy Town Center, Uptown, and the new vibrancy downtown, that’s changing.”

DUNCAN FULTON, Founding Principal, President, and CEO, Good Fulton & Farrell

 Q: The words “placemaking” and “mixed-use” are often intermingled. How do you differentiate between the two?
They are related but different. Placemaking is all about creating memorable spaces between buildings—regardless of type—while mixed-use generally refers a specific type of building or project. Where it gets interesting is that some types of building have a special capacity to contribute to placemaking because they have uses that activate the spaces around them—think restaurant, entertainment, and retail uses. Since these uses are often the building blocks of a mixed-use development, that means that mixed-use buildings have extra horsepower when it comes to placemaking.
Q: What do you see for the future of urban planning in Dallas-Fort Worth?
Perhaps the most significant and encouraging development regarding the future of urban planning in Dallas-Fort Worth is the degree to which it has caught the general public’s interest and attention. Thanks to projects like Klyde Warren Park and the Trinity, it seems that everyone is following and talking about urban planning in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago. As such, it’s clear there is a growing and broad-based appreciation for urban design that bodes well for the future and for North Texas.
Q: What differentiates Dallas-Fort Worth, in terms of placemaking?  
We are still pretty car-centric, so a lot of cars come with the activity associated with great placemaking, and that shapes DFW development in a couple of distinctive ways. First, our placemaking is often in nodes versus the districts you see in older cities. We have West Village, Legacy Town Center, and Mockingbird Station, versus Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza, Boston’s Back Bay, Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown. and Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. Second, those cars have to be hidden away in discrete ways so as not to detract from the people places—with ground-floor retail, underground parking, or architecturally enhance facades being common strategies in DFW development. As DART matures we may have more Transit Orient Developments, and this may abate at some point, but parking still takes up a disproportionate amount of time, energy, attention, and resources in when it comes to placemaking in DFW.

Scott Polikov - President: Gateway Planning Group
Q: The words “placemaking” and “mixed-use” are often intermingled. How do you differentiate between the two?
Placemaking is about creating the character of the neighborhood—the place for people. On the other hand, mixed-use is like pornography: you know it when you see it, but it is hard to define. Mixed-use is often executed, however, with little regard for placemaking. In the projects we’ve set up in terms of a design and zoning, we work to bring together both placemaking and mixed-use. In setting up CityLine in Richardson, for example, we established the essential block structure appropriate for the site and how the site should relate to the Bush DART Station and the surrounding properties. We then layered a performance-based mixed-use entitlement over a connected street network, focusing on the character of the street design to ensure that, regardless of the use allocation within the blocks and buildings, the new development would feel good for people from day one. 
For downtown McKinney, we reconceived the “square” for human interaction by redesigning the streets for people, rather than just cars blowing through downtown. We then rezoned greater downtown as form-based, to allow the market to decide where and how much any particular use will be activated for infill. 
From a real estate perspective, this approach of marrying placemaking with performance-based mixed-use zoning yields premiums for the land seller and allows for more public investment in amenities, which makes it more attractive from a tenant perspective. This is one of the reasons why developer KDC purchased the site from our client, the Parliament Group.
Q: What differentiates Dallas-Fort Worth, in terms of placemaking?
Dallas-Fort Worth’s placemaking mirrors its risk taking-ethos. Cities and developers are willing to try new approaches to an old craft—the art of neighborhood design. The key to implementing walkable neighborhoods in a modern context is setting up adjacency predictability through walkability from property ownership to property ownership.  Conventional zoning and finance treats every project in physical isolation. More and more, however, we are finding that cities and developers—especially in many of the suburbs of DFW—are embracing a design and zoning approach that connects neighboring ownerships under a single place-based regulatory framework. This creates more value in total. Each separate ownership benefits because neighboring developers are adding to the overall character of the larger context rather than buffering. This creates adjacency predictability from separate ownership to ownership, which in turn reduces risk and drives more value. 
This approach has been developed in our practice from the techniques of city building we’ve garnered from our years of involvement with the Congress for the New Urbanism.
Q: What are your thoughts on placemaking as the new frontline in Dallas-Fort Worth real estate?
Scott Polikov
From a present value perspective (privately), this creates more value. From a taxbase perspective (publicly), this creates sustainable growth and fiscal capacity over time. That is true economic development. Plus, people get to enjoy lovable and enduring neighborhoods from generation to generation. You don’t have to look beyond DFW’s own Highland Park, a “New Urbanist” neighborhood at the time developed by Henry Exall.


“The placemaking artistry critical to any successful mixed-use development is the careful choreography and harmony of shelter, scale, detail, materiality, connectivity, sensation, and romance found in the walkable ‘outdoor rooms’ between the buildings. It is in these rare and sometimes accidental spaces where individual human experiences inspire the countless memories that attach us and compel us to return again—like to a home—to those certain familiar and special places in our built environment.”

BARRY HAND, Studio Director and Regional Mixed-Use Practice Area Leader, Gensler

Q: The words “placemaking” and “mixed-use” are often intermingled. How do you differentiate between the two?
Quality mixed-use developments are often seen as more complex than most development typologies; and they are absolutely not formulaic. The long-term sustainability of a successful, exciting, and vibrant mixed-use development is rooted in the balance, variety, and flexibility of uses, event programming, and authenticity of its response to its neighborhood context and stakeholders. Neighborhood is key.
Ultimately, placemaking elements amidst plazas, passages, landscaping, open spaces, seating, event spaces, and carefully programmed activities generally aren’t enough on their own to buoy a development for the generations. Successful developments also require a strategic diversity of uses (retail, workplace, dining, residential, hospitality, entertainment, etc.), accessible and intuitive mobility/transit and parking, and connected patrons that will supply footfall, activity, and excitement as the project transitions from casual daytime through happy hour to nightlife on weekdays and weekends.
Q: What do you see for the future of urban planning in Dallas-Fort Worth?
The story about urban planning in DFW is revealing itself to be about infill, the value of choreographed open spaces, and the stitching together of neighborhoods as the city densifies itself fueled by growth and demand for walkable communities.
Q: What differentiates Dallas-Fort Worth, in terms of placemaking?
Dallas-Fort Worth is a relatively new metropolitan area, which is also seeing some of the highest rates of growth in the nation. Texans are bold, and there will be countless opportunities to compose, reshape, and refine many areas into those coveted and sought-after memorable places that tie the community to particular neighborhoods and districts.


“We are given such a gift in life to be able to engage in creating places. And yet we feel the pressure of our budgets. We feel the pressure of the expected norms. Somehow we need to emancipate ourselves—to do what we know is right, needed, and creative. If we will be so bold to do this, we will create places that are seen as natural fabric of our society and of nature. In doing this, we will have fulfilled our purpose.”

LUCY BILLINGSLEY, Partner, Billingsley Co.

Q: The words “placemaking” and “mixed-use” are often intermingled. How do you differentiate between the two?
Placemaking starts with thinking about the public arena and then framing up the private buildings so as to make the public area fabulous. Placemaking starts with thinking about activities, reasons to come together, programming, special spots for fun or for quiet moments of solitude. Whatever the words that are used, it all just boils down to humanity and understanding ourselves, our yearnings and our habits. We all desire to love and be loved, to think, to reflect, to engage to live lives of purpose, to enhance our skills and self perception. Placemaking has to be set in this context. 
How do we leverage our lives? We all know that there are great cities on earth, Paris, Rome, and London are obvious examples. They create environments that make us feel alive. They have a scale, a texture, broad swaths of nature and beauty in architecture. They are not too tall, nor too dominated by cars, nor too harsh or cold in their architecture.
Q: What do you see for the future of urban planning in Dallas-Fort Worth?
Dallas-Fort Worth is creating a series of small nodes with great personality. It feels as if we are following the model of Los Angeles. Across that major metro are many fabulous spots with special personalities. DFW has this in our older areas in Oak Cliff, Bishop Arts, Fort Worth, Deep Ellum, downtown Dallas, and the list goes on, then into our newer neighborhoods in Legacy, Austin Ranch, Southlake, and Cypress Waters. The future of urban planning in the suburban areas will create pedestrian zones with great Texas roots. We are bringing forth our music, our nature, our technology, and our urbanity. We will have special retail nodes, celebrate the nature of trees and water (if they are anywhere nearby), and offer convenience and down-to-earth experiences. This is the Texas can-do spirit of tomorrow. Pretty nice.


“Placemaking is a holistic design approach that is focused on how users interact with a project at the human level. It really applies at many different scales of a project from the buildings, plazas, and parks, to the streetscape. It takes a talented and collaborative project team of not just consultants but owners who understand what it takes to make a place. We approach placemaking as a responsibility when designing. I always envision my family walking through the project. I want it not to just be safe and feel good, I also want it to create lasting memories.”

Q: The words “placemaking” and “mixed-use” are often intermingled. How do you differentiate between the two?

Mixed-use is a catch-all phrase these days for a project or specific building that incorporates more than one use. Many projects are mixed-use by definition but do not take placemaking into consideration.



Larry Good - Founding Principal and Chairman: Good Fulton & Farrell

Q: What are your thoughts on the differences between vertical and horizontal mixed-use?

The two are both valid, but they’re very different. When most people think about mixed-use projects, they think about one use, such as residential or office, stacked on top of street-level restaurant or retail. These are the ones that are harder to do, harder to finance. They’re the ones that are challenges, because you’re really mixing two building types, two product types in the same building.

Q: What factors contribute to the success of a mixed-use project?

I can think of six factors. The first is critical mass. This can come from developing a smaller-mixed use project within a larger scene. Two examples of this are recent West Village developments, 3636 McKinney and 3700M. It can also come from project that is huge itself by itself to create critical mass. An example of this is Park Lane.

A second component of successful mixed-use projects is an advantageous sharing of parking, in which office workers use the parking during the day, while entertainment-seekers use it during the evening. This makes a project more financially feasible, because you’re not overbuilding the parking, but you’ve got that wonderful sharing, which benefits mixed-use.

A third component is walkability.

Larry Good

A fourth component to mixed-use success is making the project transit-adjacent. Park Lane, Mockingbird Station, and West Village are all successful examples of this. 

A fifth necessity is the creation of a pleasant public realm. This means when you stand on the sidewalk, in the streets of the mixed-use development, it feels safe, comfortable, lively, and vibrant. And for a mixed-use development to be successful, it should have that.

Lastly, intentional, thoughtful developer partnerships can be the key to a successful project.

 John Ruggieri - Vice President: RTKL

Q: The words “placemaking” and “mixed-use” are often intermingled. We’d like your take on it. 

 This is a good observation. And its answer has many parts. I often hear the words “mixed-use” used by developers to mean the horizontal mix of uses, where planners and designers mean vertical. Both terms are right, but they imply entirely different intentions and results. It really depends upon how the uses are integrated—or maybe better said, how they are not separated.

Many times in city council meetings, the developer will say the project is mixed-use, as if it is the magic key that opens the doors of increased or facilitated entitlement. In fact, the buildings are separated by vast parking lots that require one to drive from one parking space to another. That is not to say there cannot be an admirable “place” within the project that is lauded as its testimony to placemaking. Unfortunately, this has become the typical urban form of mixed-use and placemaking since the end of WWII and the suburbanization of America. Let’s say we are going to discount this type of urban form for that sake of what makes places really great. Or vital. Or memorable. Better yet, what is it about a place that makes you want to return, again and again, and ven take an emotional ownership in it?

Let’s start with scale. People only realistically relate to great urban spaces at the size of a district in part, because that is what we can perceive, comprehend, and access. Districts also hang together by the ability to support a cohesive commercial function. By the way, that does include residential, because living in a place is part of the commerce of a full daily life. Districts come in all shapes and sizes, but what we find is there are seven district types that are differentiate by their principal purpose. They also range from about 15 to 100 acres. Legacy Town Center, a project we did some years ago in Plano, is considered a successfully performing district. It is about 80 acres. We consider this to be two districts, with the retail, food and beverage, and office district interlocking with the larger residential district around the lake and open space. 

Back to district types. A major sports and entertainment district, Like LA Live in Los Angeles and the San Francisco 49er’s district in Santa Clara, are vastly different from a primarily residential or education-based district like Addison Circle or State Thomas in Uptown. Recognizing their functions in a society are different, our design of these districts are vastly different in both use and design. All of them are mixed-use and considered good placemaking. The ingredients that are required for that district to function vitality are different. 

This may sound obvious, but without understanding the role of density, intensity of use, block size, street widths, entrances, parking areas, and the proper mix and type of uses, the district will be inherently dulled and eventually underperform. The underperformance is both a result of poor patronage and its cause. Which leads to answering the question of what makes places great. This is a slightly different way of saying, what is great placemaking because it refers to the design and programming elements that relate to overall performance. The making of place requires finer design and programming details that relate to people on an intimate scale. I think both need to be present to making mixed-use districts and their places great.

Q: What other components are required for a successful mixed-use development?

Once we have a district that is the proper size with all of the above attributes, we have created the basic ingredients for a district to be perceived by people as a desirable place to be. Yet, many districts are designed or have been functioning for decades or centuries that are not considered great places. Why is this? Why do people say that Times Square in New York is better than Main Street in Dallas or LA Live is better performing than Victory Park? 

The answer is complex, and it evolves periodically based upon the sensitivities and expectations of the generations of current users. Let’s consider two fundamentally understood terms, genuine and relevant. We can say that older districts that have aged are less attractive because they may be in disrepair, but this does not hold up for many of the world’s great historic places that just entered your mind. They are genuine and still relevant because we find value in honoring past cultures as well as its current vibrancy. Conversely, an older district in disrepair in may be a poor place despite good architecture because it does not provide a sense of relevancy or genuineness. 

John Ruggieri

They reflect this position in a society by the height of their buildings, the width of the street, the attention to detail in the walks, spaces, streetscape, location of spaces that provide respite and opportunity for congregating, pedestrian level architecture, distance between alcove and doorways, sizes of windows, and about 50 other design considerations that we feel but can’t easily identify. 

What needs to happen in downtown Dallas, while it assumes great place status, is to pay attention to these details. It needs to find ways to make its public spaces better. These are its streets, sidewalks, spaces, and facades and how they make people feel comfortable and pleased. The aesthetics of the place needs to be both inviting, engaging, and safe. The combination of these tactics, whether along a street or at a destination, is critical to creating a successful bigger place at the district level. 

In Dallas, streets and their accompanying facades and streetscape materials need to be better designed for pedestrians. Facades need to activated whenever possible, which may not work if improvements made at the lot or building do not address the needs of the whole block and its relationship within a multi-block area. When we as a society or business concern only consider the building, we lose the opportunity to provide for people’s essential needs. Consideration must be given to the reduction of intrusions such as noise, pollution, and smells, as well as places to collect sunlight in winter and shade in summer, etc. Additionally, the uses in the places and district need to be relevant to today’s consumer, be it a place to live, play, or work—or all!

Q: What makes a great place, in today’s terms, for Dallas? 

Once again, it depends on its relevancy to us and the age-old principles of design, which Dallas, and most cities, have generally abdicated for the benefit of driving and parking our cars. That is not to say that neighborhoods with streets are not great places. But most would admit that the M Streets in Dallas, off Main Street in Grapevine, and downton McKinney feel better than a subdivision on the periphery simply because the buildings have more diverse materials, scale is more human, front yards have better opportunity for landscape, the trees have matured—and let’s not to forget that there are windows on the street instead of garage doors. So I vote for good old-style neighborhoods as great mixed-use and placemaking, as long as it has a corner store and coffee shop where you can walk to and meet your neighbors along the way. I will admit, the above are horizontal mixed use places. But for the most parking, the streets and parking do not give a sense of separation. Also, if design is used as a means to separate society rather than to promote a more diverse interaction, it likely loses its great place status for me.

In today’s world of institutionally funded real estate, it requires some courage and finesse to include these ingredients in a way that performs for the investors as well as for you and me when we visit it. Let’s talk about this concept of performance, because like it or not, its every bit as real as that door on the front of the building and it has everything to do with the great mixed use places and placemaking of our future. Greatness requires that places perform for all of society, not just a few.

If a place is high performing, then it holds meaning for people in a manner that encourages repeat visits and creates energy in the commerce of that place. These can be of all shapes and sizes, look different and have different urban designs. The design of these places is an important contributing factor, but so is its mix of uses, types of retail, housing and workplaces, and the mix and balance of retail and food and beverage. A lot of time is spent on understanding these relationships in a given place to make sure that both the design and its programming is responsive to the commercial needs and sensitivities of is surrounding market(s). More than likely, it does not happen by chance unless nature protects us from failing.

Q: How can the success of a mixed-use district be measured?

The latest technologies and social media now allow us to understand the DNA of successful mixed-use districts as places that people adopt. Social media, urban shopping, the changing nature of work and the conscious consumer is requiring both revisions in design and programming—or maybe more accurately stated, a return to and modification of the age-old wisdom of designing mixed use places and not just shopping town centers. 

We have found that actively communicating the personality, character, and value of a place through branding and an ongoing communications effort is vital in keeping us plugged in. Younger people especially are requiring them to converge all the aspects of a person’s life into a place where they can fully do so. As the recent downtrends in the homeownership market has taught us, younger buyers of housing have dropped out and are opting for more flexible lifestyles that require a variety of housing options to be integrated into a flexible work place. Work can occur both in and outside the building. The days of chat around the coffee or water cooler are history. That takes place at the coffee shop or in flexible outside Wi-Fi spaces that we refer to as “The Third Place.” Shopping is integrated with eating and working so that all is connected and porous. 

For today’s mixed use districts to be great, they need to integrate most aspects of a person’s life, especially those of us who are now just discovering how we want to live. They need to be immersive and highly experiential yet speak to eternal values. The design and function of the place needs to enter our beings not just through our eyes but also though our hearts and minds. Just as we demand more from our cars, we also demand more from our places.


See Also:

The Evolution of Mixed-Use


Roundtable: Mixed Use