“Markets are the backbone of our local food systems and drive regional economies, which are all that much more important in moments of global disruptions. At a more human level, they also offer places that sustain our souls as well as our bodies in difficult times.” – Project for Public Spaces
Public markets are a valuable asset. A successful market can create a dynamic and diverse community space, link rural and urban communities, promote economic opportunity and make neighborhoods vibrant. However, they are under constant threat due to competition from supermarkets, lack of investment, and now, an unexpected pandemic that requires social distancing. Still, some states have designated farmers markets as essential services.
Early in 2020, Project for Public Spaces launched a survey of public markets in cities around the world with the aim of learning more about the impact of public markets on communities and the roles market investment, infrastructure and management play. While the survey remains open, there have already been responses from over 60 cities in 20 countries.
Project for Public Spaces subsequently launched the global Market Cities Initiative in partnership with Healthbridge and Slow Food International. The goal of the initiative is to help build strong governmental support strategies to ensure that public markets not only survive but become more resilient over time.
Testing the waters
Three North American cities have been selected to participate in the first phase of the initiative, each with its own distinct challenges. The first is Pittsburgh with 48 farmer’s markets, five of which are city run. They struggle with a lack of farmers to supply them. The second is Seattle which boasts one of the largest marketplaces in the country – Pike Place – and has another 16 small farmer’s markets operated by four different entities. And finally Toronto, which has over 100 public markets most of which are operated independently. While these are strongly supported by individual communities, they lack a cohesive support system.
The pandemic has shown us how easily our food supply chain can be disrupted. Supporting local markets is more important now than ever before. They are the cornerstone of local food systems and economies.
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Image courtesy of John D Norton