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Market Cities: Barcelona Offers a Hopeful Glimpse of the Future

thumb_474__4Project for Public Spaces says Barcelona is “perhaps the best example of a modern Market City”

Ever since freezers and preservatives freed us from the need to shop at food markets on a daily basis, the focus has shifted almost entirely to convenience, resulting in the proliferation of supermarkets and box stores.

In the process, food has been disconnected from the natural cycle of daily life. “There’s a lot of talk about food deserts today, but what many neighborhoods really have are place deserts,” says PPS’s Steve Davies. “As a result, we’re seeing a movement back to the idea of the Market City, with markets acting as catalysts for creating centers in neighborhoods that have lost their sense of place.”

Market Cities are places with strong networks for the distribution of healthy, locally-produced food and other goods. They have large central markets that act as hubs for the region and function as great multi-use destinations, with many activities clustering nearby; moving out into the neighborhoods, these cities contain many smaller, but still substantial  neighborhood markets that sell all the necessities for daily needs; in between, you’ll find small corner grocers, weekly farmers markets, flea and artisan markets, produce carts, and other small-scale distribution points.

media_72480To build these strong networks, Market Cities have invested in their existing market activity, no matter how small, because it provides multiple economic, social, health and environmental benefits that are essential for creating vibrant, extraordinary places for people to live, work and play. These investments take the form of greater organizational capacity as well as improved physical infrastructure, which leads to a strong, positive impact on the entire community, including those that are often underserved and overlooked.

Barcelona is perhaps the best example of a modern Market City. “They have an incredibly thriving network of around 45 permanent public markets,” notes PPS’s Kelly Verel, “because when they planned out the city in the late 19th century, they considered markets the same way that you consider all utilities–like, where does the water go, the power, the garbage, etc.”

Barcelona markets expert Jordi Tolrà i Mabilon is not impressed with the megastores that have become a ubiquitous part of modern urban life. “I don’t like to call them ‘supermarkets because real markets are actually what’s super,” he joked, when he and Barcelona Vice Mayor Raimond Blasi recently met with public and farmers market leaders in New York. For the event, hosted at PPS headquarters, the duo came armed with some amazing statistics that should give hope to all of the market-lovers trying to turn today’s sterile food culture on its ear. For instance, did you know that of all the fruit, vegetables, and fish bought in Barcelona, the majority is bought at markets? Eight thousand vendors work at over 40 public markets throughout the city, supporting 65 million visitors a year and a €1 billion turnover.

Read the full post on PPS

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