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ATale of Two Cities-Within-Cities


Call them what you will—transit-oriented projects, master-planned communities, cities-within-cities—urban developments that meld live-work-play components in a sustainable, all-inclusive complex are gaining traction across the globe.

In Beijing, China, a megacomplex coined Linked Hybrid, which opened in summer 2008, eliminated a commute by putting luxury apartments, hotel, retail and restaurants in an eight-tower ring connected by skywalks. The development was certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold.

Zonk’izizwe Town Center connects South African cities Johannesburg and Pretoria with an eco-friendly mixed-use destination that incorporates major retail, office and residential.

Sweden’s Stockholm Royal Seaport will transform former brown-fields into the country’s largest city district, with residences, offices, retail and major transportation uses on 660 acres. Construction on the project launched in 2009, with project completion slated for 2025.

Closer to home, Chain Store Age examined city-within-a-city projects in two diverse North American markets. The duo is similar in that each incorporates inclusive amenities designed to keep residents and workers on property, but both show different approaches and formatting for achieving the common end-goal of mixing uses and pushing sustainability.

The Town Center of Virginia Beach: In August national communications firm BCF leased 12,614 s q. ft. in the newest office building at the heart of Virginia Beach’s central business district. The new tenant is one of a lineup of companies that have committed to headquarters at The Town Center of Virginia Beach.

The Town Center provides a mix of Class A office space; multi-level upscale retail; deluxe residential; the Sandler Center for Performing Arts; and an array of cafes, restaurants and business hotels.

To create such a complex campus is no easy feat.

“The greatest challenge in a mixed-use development that comprises multiple city blocks with high-rise construction and street-level retail in a suburban environment is to effectively integrate the uses so as to create a synergy from their co-existence,” said Gerald Divaris, chairman and CEO of Divaris Real Estate, “versus creating a conflict through competing expectations.”

For example, parking has been provided both at street level and in parking garages—a necessity, said Divaris, when a project has to compete with traditional retail products in the market.

The second issue was to make the parking convenient without having the office tenants usurping the lower spaces and on-street parking. “The solution was to have short-term parking on the street and in the lower floors,” said Divaris, “and provide reserved parking for the office tenants on the upper floors of the parking garages with private elevator lobbies servicing their offices.”

The Rise: Designing and building a transit-oriented, inner-city project in the heart of Vancouver’s rapidly growing Cambie Street corridor required some significant planning on the part of international property group Grosvenor Americas. The mixed-use The Rise development spans a 2.3-acre city block just steps away from a new Canada Line rapid transit station linking the Vancouver airport to the downtown core.

Significant ground-floor retail—think anchors Home Depot, Winners Home Sense and Save-On-Foods—is topped by live-work rental homes enhanced by a 20,000-sq.-ft. green roof and community garden.

“Mixing and stacking the uses does add significant complexity, cost and time to the project,” said Michael Mortensen, senior development manager for Grosvenor Americas, “but it is ultimately worth it if you consider our land, energy and carbon footprint.”

Consider this, said Mortensen. “If we were to build The Rise in a traditional suburban format, we’d need eight times the area of land, and almost all of our customers would have to drive to shop.”

In early November, the Urban Land Institute named The Rise among its five winners of the 2009 Global Awards for Excellence Competition. Judging criteria included a strong urban design, response to the surrounding environment, and a design that contributes to a livable, sustainable development that demonstrates relevance to the needs of the community.

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