Food markets are everywhere

Food markets are everywhere – they are truly ubiquitous. Throughout the world all cities, suburbs, small towns and villages have them. These markets are constantly adapting as we change our shopping habits. News media reports are often filmed on markets. And our politicians think they are the place to be seen and heard when they are campaigning. Once you start looking, there they are: in the media, in fiction, on the tourist map – they are part of the fabric of our everyday lives.

Markets have a place in all our futures. As governments at every level wrestle with issues connected to food security and food planning, markets are a central part of urban design. Going to the market is more than ‘doing the shopping’. What we eat and where we choose to buy it influences the shape of our food systems and it also says a lot about who we are.

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Traditional markets and food halls – is this the future?

There is plenty of new investment in traditional market halls. But what direction is this taking? The debate even made it onto the agenda of the cool SXSW festival in Austin, Texas in 2016. This discussed whether food halls and public markets in the US are making a comeback as local restaurants cluster near food businesses in new market hall developments. It’s a trend going on globally – the blog photograph was taken on Rotterdam’s new Markthal in The Netherlands. However, many believe that traditional (or public) markets have a complimentary function to new food halls. Indeed, the traditional  market was doing a bustling trade outside the new Markthal in Rotterdam when this photograph was taken. Traditional markets have been here for our neighbourhood communities for centuries, supplying them with healthy and accessible food and providing support for local businesses. But as cities change and regeneration moves local people out of the centre what happens to this way of shopping for fresh food?  Keep reading as we chart current trends.

Reconnecting with fresh food – what the traditional market offers

Urban shopping malls are re-emerging and adapting as part of new urban developments. In a city famed for its street life, the new Oculus development on the World Trade Centre site in New York City successfully acts as a draw for tourists and as a transit point for the tens of thousands of daily commuters. This formulaic and generic shopping concept brings the mall out of suburbia and into the heart of the city. However, Michael Sorkin, professor of architecture at City College of New York, points out that the development is “virtually indistinguishable from Dubai duty-free”.

Stefan Al  points to other cities, such as San Li Tun, an area in Beijing’s central business district, that have expanded the concept. This removes the architecture of the closed shopping mall and integrates outdoor public space within a plan that can grow organically, adapting to cultural change within the city. Architect Chris Law says, “we simply continued the urban pattern that has been around for hundreds of years”,  mentioning medieval cities such as Sienna, where shops and food stalls lined thriving public space.

Restaurants, cafes and bars feature prominently in these urban shopping malls but what about fresh food shopping ? The US Project for Public Spaces aims to put communities back into the public space equation and has a focus on the role of public markets in supporting local food systems, economies and public health. This concept is being applied in the UK within major market redevelopments. Take for example, the 7 million pound redevelopment underway in Leicester, voted Britain’s best food market in 2015. The new food hall is part of a new vision for the market where re-developed public space will be used to link the market to the rest of the city. This is what appears to be missing in the new urban shopping malls, there is a  renewed focus on public space, but the multinational offer does not reconnect people to fresh and healthy food. Keep reading, we will be looking at this.

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