Placemaking Through Civic Retail: Public and Farmers’ Markets at the Congress for the New Urbanism’s CNU21
Rob Spanier, LiveWorkLearnPlay
Rob Spanier, Partner and Principal of LiveWorkLearnPlay, began with the analogy that planning is the hardware, and activation is the software. He said that there are ways to activate a community in ways that don’t need to rely upon huge capital investment.
So why farmers’ and public markets? Spanier said that markets become powerful regional drivers, they act as anchors, and that they are the heart of most communities that have them.
He explained that local businesses keep money spent at their establishments in the local economy far more often than chain businesses. The “slow food” and “back to basics” movements have helped put more focus on local economies in recent years.
He said that those who shop at these markets most frequently spend over $40 on average. 60-80% of permanent businesses within close proximity to markets report higher sales during market hours. It’s also estimated that 1 to 5 jobs are created per vendor. About 800 people are needed to support a typical farmers market, according to Spanier.
In 1994, there were 1,755 farmer’s markets in the US. In 2012, there were 7,864.
Socially, markets establish a casual community gathering place, and thus create many opportunities for impromptu conversations with strangers and neighbors. Families are particularly drawn to markets, said Spanier. The market creates new rituals for the downtown core. Markets can serve as a- or even the- driving force behind a downtown revitalization initiative. He argues that all of these factors create a greater sense of community.
He discussed how markets could serve as an informal downtown incubator for new businesses.
So how do you develop a successful market? Spanier suggests setting up with the right expectation and the right business plan. He suggests asking yourself, your team, and the market’s stakeholders:
What are we trying to achieve?
What’s the mix of tenants we’re searching for?
How will we finance this?
How are we partnering with the public sector to pull this off?
Spanier said that just as with a garden, you must continuously tend commercial ventures. He said that, “ongoing assets need to be managed and maintained, otherwise [the market will] fail.” He suggested starting granularly, then working up from there. Do not cater to just the residential units that are in the development or immediate area of the market. Prepare for surrounding areas to come visit during market hours as well, otherwise the town center will die, said Spanier.
Gilbert Rochecouste, Village Well
“How do we go deep but not wide into placemaking?” He and Village Well have done this with Melbourne, Australia’s laneways, attracting 800 unique and distinct traders, merchants, chefs and the helms of food stands, and many other tenant varieties. Rochecouste said that Melbourne embraces its graffiti- that people travel to Melbourne to take tours to see the wonderful street art.
Rochecouste said that the placemaking process goes something like this: reading the lay of the land; learning the place story; applying placemaking principles; taking into account the people, environment, planet, product, and programming; creating a placemaking strategy; and finally, implementation.
He said that he see markets as economic, cultural, and social quality generators. Good markets attract crowds, which builds confidence in the private sector that placemaking is a good move. Good markets are catalysts. Good markets are authentic- no beige- good places need that grit to them, he said. Good markets are marketable themselves, and they’re flexible. Preferably, a market should not rely upon major structures and be relatively mobile.
But to be a great market? Rochecouste said that traders (or vendors, merchants, tenants, etc.) are the best placemakers. They bring in cultural diversity and are often quite characters themselves. Great markets contain a sort of theatre: the food, the people, and the events taking place all working together to create a unique and energizing atmosphere. Great markets offer a diverse range of products. Great markets tell stories. Great markets have five to ten rituals or traditions. Great markets develop new ideas.
Successful markets have these key principles, according to Rochecouste: They are urban, sustainable, relational (not transactional), they have integrity, connected, educational, and they’re a “people place.”
He suggested these great markets to visit around the world:
- Adelaide Central Market
- Union Square Greenmarket
- Borough Market
- Darwin Night Markets
- Queen Victoria Market
What do you think makes your local market stand out and worth visiting every week/month/year?
Credit: Images and data linked to sources.