Apr 17, 2010

Smart Growth: Mixed Use Zoning (like the older neighborhoods)

    MIXED VS UNIFORM ZONING In Honolulu, older neighborhoods often have small pockets of mixed zoning vs large swaths of residential development bordered by retail/wholesale outlet stores. Which is typically what happens in new residential developments: homes are grouped into one area with commercial uses grouped along the highway, ie. strip malls.  
    By concentrating (and limiting) commercially zoned land, it becomes a rare commodity with a high demand. The result is higher rents that only large national brands can afford; smaller local stores can't compete. Driving down Ft Weaver Rd in Ewa, you're more likely to see 7-11's, McDonald's, or Starbucks; not a Magoo's Pizza, Sam Choy's, or a local plate lunch stop -- establishments that create a unique sense of place or reinforce a cultural identity. 
    Alternatively, proponents of Smart Growth suggest that distributing commercial uses more evenly would help to break-up the strip-mall effect, provide more opportunities for local business to develop/in-fill smaller parcels of land and enrich the cultural uniqueness or character of the neighborhood (ie. Would Matsumoto Shave-Ice on the North Shore be such an icon if it were a Walmart?).  
    Another potential benefit of mixed zoning is reduced traffic congestion. The theory is that by distributing or mixing uses, people can access needed goods and services by foot rather than car. In Palolo and Kapahulu, for example, there are corner grocery stores or mini marts. These neighborhood stores help to reduce traffic by providing amenities within walking distance from home.
    These mini marts are considered Nonconforming Uses in residential zoned neighborhoods and cannot be expanded. There are also strict limits as to the amount of physical repairs they can do per 12-month interval. And no new mini marts are allowed.
    Which system works better? Compare older neighborhoods like Manoa, Palolo, Kaimuki, vs new development in Ewa and Mililani. For now, the commute seems to be the resounding complaint of locals, but some would also characterize the older neighborhoods with mixed zoning as having more character; a sense of place.

    Listen to this audio stream and article about how "Developers Improvise as Economy Falters" (aired 8/21/08). Some are creating communities with a town center that features conveniences within walking distance: "You'll be able to live, work and play here like the early villages in the United States," the developer says.