On Columbus Day, a group of architects discussed how to determine the right style for mixed-use developments. The holiday provided the perfect lead-in to the discussion. During Christopher Columbus' lifetime, mixed-use living was the norm. Not until the 20th century did uses begin separating in the United States. "Now, they call it New Urbanism, but it really should be called Old Urbanism since the concept dates back to pre-20th century Europe," joked panelist Thomas Fridstein, a senior principal at architect firm Perkins Eastman.

Retail can be a critical component to housing, as it provides increased income for owners; decreases risk; adds an amenity for residents; maximizes land value; enriches the urban environment; and contributes to a sense of place. Fridstein was joined by moderator Mark Humphreys, CEO of Humphreys & Partners Architects, and speakers Daniel Gehman, principal of Thomas P. Cox Architects, and Brit Perkins, principal of multifamily at EDI Architecture, in explaining how to design the ideal mixed-use property during the "Perfect Blend" panel at the 2008 Multifamily Executive Conference.

"You have to know a little bit about everything," Gehman said. The top tips? Design a distinct identity for all uses with nonconflicting access for residents and the public with well planned circulation. Also, HUD 221 (d)4 loans are readily available to help finance mixed-use projects. "Get it right, it's great," Cox said. "Get it wrong, and it can be a nightmare."

One example of getting it right: Sky View Parc in Queens, N.Y., designed by Perkins Eastman. Residences reside on top of big box retail stores that are on either side of the parking area at the center. Over the parking, a cleverly designed green roof provides a park for residents.