And that idea is simple: get rid of the zoning regulations that prevent commercial businesses from operating in residential areas. Then, stand back and watch entrepreneurs transform suburban subdivisions into flourishing mixed-use areas.I'm perpetually arguing with doctrinaire conservatives on one side and progressive urbanists on the other about the wisdom of easing residential zoning restrictions or boxing out neighborhood feedback in order to allow commercial enterprise in residential zones. The assumption from my opponents seems to be naive and overly optimistic: boutique shops, hip restaurants, and coffee bars will magically emerge as if every neighborhood could be Germantown or 5 Points.
As a serious proposal, this leaves a lot to be desired. Consider that the marquee business is a single-family home turned nightclub. I may be raising my family in Manhattan, but even I don't want thumping music next door until 3 a.m. every night. And who wants to wake up to find their neighbor's house suddenly transformed into a medical waste disposal firm, or a dog kennel? In general, it's a good thing zoning regulations exist. The answer isn't simply to "abolish poorly conceived zoning laws," but to conceive better ones, laws that allow for mixed use areas, denser development, and the infrastructure to handle it (a significant weakness of the Entrepreneurbia design, as several commenters pointed out) without necessarily letting a disco spring up on every corner.
The market reality is that every neighborhood cannot be trendy and otherwise innocuous. There will still be niches for unpalatable businesses like car washes, pawn shops, and convenience stores. I have yet to see new urbanists flocking to the idea of designing for those kinds of establishments. Yet, once zoning rules and public feedback requirements are relaxed, and as we open residential zoning to mixed-use and commercial development, the genie is out of the bottle. We have to accept any kind of business that chooses to locate next to our home. If its a used book store, great. If it's a quick-sacked, brown-bag liquor store, not so much.
Part of the problem with living in Salemtown is that we live right next to a neighborhood that already has an established restaurant line-up and a growing mixed-use boutique culture. Relaxing residential zoning here may promote the same. However, I believe that relaxation is just as likely to invite less than desirable lower tier businesses because the restaurant and boutique market is already saturated a few blocks down. Germantown's über-popular Monell's recently filed for bankruptcy, which reinforces my perception that there may not be much more room for new neighborhood restaurants, wishful thinking aside.
In the final analysis, developers and entrepreneurs who want to relax residential zoning to allow mixed-use should have to make their case to neighborhoods and under the strictures of sub-area plans. That is the only way to insure that undesirable businesses don't encroach on residential quality of life.