Thursday, July 1, 2010

Public market expert looking at Spokane’s possibilities


How to concoct the perfect public market:

2 parts people
2 parts smiles
2 parts farmers
1 part food
3 parts community exchange
2 parts children
1 part music
1 ½ part cash
2 parts space/place-making

Mix above ingredients, but first find a large or semi-large space – plenty of sun, or not. Sprinkle with ancient spice “food-produce-product exchange” and blend gently with the magic called the social health of the community. Call the neighbors while whipping it up. You might need other ingredients folded in from the private-public sectors, plus chutzpah from county, city and state leaders to ensure plenty of allowances for food carts, tables, farm stands, trinkets and crafts. Make sure code enforcers make it easy for small retailers and producers to do business. Serve and enjoy.

While the public market movement today, from Louisville to Detroit, from Minneapolis to Boston, certainly finds its impetus in downtown revitalization efforts, as well as the under-girdering of business and real estate development partnerships, there’s no getting around markets aren’t made from the buildings, can’t depend on architecture to thrive, and can get by with lousy locations.

A market or public space is the sum total of all activities within, around and nearby. People power is key.

“Markets create value, and not just in transaction value. They create valuable places that, in turn, spur additional investment,” said David O’Neil, market researcher, developer, writer and public space consultant extraordinaire.

A former manager of Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia and now a researcher with the Ford Foundation and director of the Public Market Collaborative of the Project for Public Spaces, he sings the praises of public space investment, market development and urban revitalization.

He’s visited the world’s great markets and lately has worked with the Spokane Public Market board, BR3 Development Group, architects from Nystrom, Olsen, Collins, Inc., and others to develop a city block on the south side of Second edged by Pacific and Browne.

The market’s location is slated for a 25,200-square-foot former flower warehouse space. The idea is to have a year-round indoor market with outdoor vending space when the climate’s agreeable, and a separate and different market district from the farmer’s market.

The DNA of the place, O’Neil said, is strong, with a latent market district in its history. It’s near low-income buildings, and there are a few empty buildings. There also would be challenges to retrofitting, razing and repurposing another area to create a new market district.

O’Neil said a public market reflects the community, its economic viability, but more importantly its cultural and physical health.

Sometimes a market sprouts up from historical places, in warehouse districts, milling and flower wholesale locations. Other times investors try to reinvent the wheel with huge private-public financing schemes to create turbo-charged food courts.

Then there’s magic, serendipity and frustration with business as usual, and, voila , you have a place like Pike Place Market.

In 1907, Seattle’s regional farmers were feeling the pinch of the middleman, so small, independent truck farmers gathered at Pike Place to sell directly to the consumer. This Nirvana of U.S. public-private markets recently received the backing of Seattle’s citizenry with the passage of a $65 million revitalization bond.

Pike Place has withstood a lot of challenges, while many of country’s top public markets have withstood greater obstacles, such as pillaging, cultural changes, weather, fires, Diasporas, and hostile takeovers by gentrification development plans.

Unfortunately, like the goodness milled and bleached out of bread, other central public markets have lost out to more than 50 years of industrialization, suburbanization, Walmart-ification, automobiles, the Internet and retail chains.

“People left the cities after the Depression, and with that we lost our urban compass,” said O’Neil. “We’ve redlined neighborhoods and cut them to bits with the saber tooth saws called roads.”

It seems like a heavy lift for Spokane to propose a Spokane Public Market on a block near the House of Charity, in buildings totaling 75,000 square feet, but O’Neil knows his way around managing markets and developing them as public markets. He says that block “has good DNA” for not only a public market, but an entire district.

The term ‘agora’ denotes a marketplace, often heard regarding the Ancient Greek gathering places where orators held speeches and citizens met to debate.

Just hanging out at The Shop, on Perry, for the first of the season’s Thursday South Perry Street Markets, the elegance and simplicity of these exchanges, families carousing to music or old people sucking on honey sticks, it was obvious that a market’s enterprise can be this sort of gathering, with a few pop-up canopies and banged-up tables.

I asked the farmers there about the Spokane Public Market proposal, including South Perry Street Market Director Brian Estes, who owns Vinegar Flats Farm, and bread maker, Louise Tuffin, with Tom and Louise’s Arabesque Farms and Bakery.

Both are working hard with market season in full swing, so getting in on the design and feedback sessions for the Public Market proposal has been difficult. They see Spokane as having the right ingredients for a year-round market, but also the dark, hovering cloud of, well, Spokane.

It’s about capacity, about communication (or lack thereof), about buy-in, and convincing many citizens with a 1950s vision to break into the 21st century in terms of seeing potential of a market as proposed through O’Neil’s presentation.

Sam Nystrom, president of the architecture firm helping BR3, understands the need for urban infill, and knows the block is a long-term project.

Getting feedback from possible users is valuable in the process to get a public market off the ground, but Nystrom still professes the traditional architect’s take on the world – “Creating the right space, from an aesthetically pleasing and functional point of view, drives the market’s viability.”

They say they have letters of intent from anchor businesses and prospective tenants, and some of the funding “is in place,” close to $1.5 million, but the Spokane Public Market board needs commitment from growers, producers, sellers and the buyers/public to get that space vibrant.

It may be a low-income and shoddy area of town, but O’Neil and others know that once you put people there, and have things happening, a lot of problems like crime or fear of crime melt away.

Grungy is how many see the historic Lexington Market, but it represents a big slice of that city’s culture. In the U.S., farmer’s markets have grown like gangbusters in the past two decades, over 6,000 at last count. Community Support edAgriculture businesses (CSAs) have also burgeoned the past decade.

The key to Spokane’s public market future is to make the connection to all the neighborhood farmer’s markets, and tie into a regional food shed – about 200 miles in radius.

“A market should suit its place. It’s like if you plant a seed, and put it too deep and add too much water, it’s not going to grow,” O’Neil said.

The big question on many farmers’ minds is whether it is the right time for Spokane, the right dimension and scale, and if there is enough capacity, farm-wise.

For those looking for resiliency in a future world of struggling oil and energy availability and affordability, maybe a public square, a public node of buildings, booths and stores where entertainment and affordable, and healthy food and local goods and services are available, is just the recipe for building community and restarting history.

No comments:

Post a Comment

This blog is brought to you by

This blog is brought to you by
Paul Haeder

Fuse Washington

Fuse Washington