Musings on Markets #4: How to find ways to solve issues of gentrification?

Following directly on from my previous post on street food and artisan markets – this post considers their relationship to the traditional market.

These new food halls and artisan markets aren’t delivering what the traditional market does. They are considered by many to be part of a gentrification process, defined by Gonzalez and Swanson as ‘… a concept often used to describe and criticise changes in the social make-up of a neighbourhood. Simply put, it can be seen as the replacement of a working class and/or low income population by middle class as dwellers, consumers, or both.’[1]

Gonzalez and Swanson point out the differences in what they call a gentrified market and a traditional market in this table.


They have strong concerns that affordable, essential goods are no longer available to those who need them and that the strong cultural tradition of markets is being lost, to something that may well be a passing retail trend. ‘This functional shift – from amenity to destination – changes the presentation of the market from a practical, necessary site of affordable goods to a more exclusive, niche and (possibly) temporary place of entertainment and variety.’[2]

I’m interested in finding ways to support the revitalisation of town centres and local neighbourhoods, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. How can different communities of interest work together to support a genuine ‘local’ economy where the money remains circulating locally for longer (and isn’t sucked away at speed through national chains)? How can local independent retailers/businesses continue to be supported in this era of Amazon and other online shopping?

Is there a way that some of the new ideas around food halls and artisan produce can be weaved into a traditional market, making something that brings new people into the market to experience and shop there, whilst retaining the values, affordability and customers who’ve been shopping in the traditional market for generations?

I have visited a couple of markets that are trying to do things differently and trying to resist the gentrification trend. A recent holiday to the town of Lagos in Portugal (the regional main town), I visited two linked local markets. Both were bringing in tourists, and both also had local people shopping at them. The first is a municipal market building featuring fish, fruit and vegetables and local delicacies. And the second Saturday farmers’ market in an open warehouse, where around 30 local farmers sold olives, peppers, fruit, nuts etc (often sitting on a crate, with just one or two crates of produce). Both markets were for local traders to sell their own produce at affordable prices.

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Lagos farmers market

The second is Levenshulme Market (Manchester), which began in 2013, a social enterprise which takes place on Saturday, and on a Friday evening, once a month. It has a mix of basic essential food produce (cheese, fruit and veg, bread, meats), street food, live music, also artisan craft stalls, vintage stalls, occasionally voluntary groups have a stall. Whilst not priced at the lower end of the scale, prices are not set too high. It has supported small businesses to start-up through their presence on the market and is actively seeking to make stronger links with retailers on the local high street (see their recent social value report).

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Anne Findlay and Leigh Sparkes (in Town and Country Planning Journal May/June 2018) have recently commented that ‘… retailing is not independent of economy, society or place, but is rather a reflection of what we value as consumers and society.’ I concur with this statement which strongly links the social and the economy. They also point out that the problems dogging the retail sector of late might be better resolved if a place-based approach is taken; ‘If you conceive the issue as being a retail one, then retail solutions get proposed and are often doomed to fail. If the problem is framed as place or town centre based, then the breadth of the problems is great, but the breadth of potential solutions is greater too. Towns are so much more than retailing.’

As I said at the outset of these last four posts on markets, I don’t have any concrete answers to the issues in relation to markets (yet!). But I do know we need to work together across public, private and social sectors, borrow approaches from other cultures, share ideas with each other and experiment, take risks and try to find ways to do things differently. In so doing we will support the resilience of our town and neighbourhood centres, make our local economies more prosperous, support all parts of our community, including those that need those essential and affordable goods provided by traditional markets and in so doing we can find ways to act to retain all that is valuable and worthwhile in the traditional market.

[1], [2] ‘Traditional Markets Under Threat: why it’s happening and what traders and customers can do’ by Dr Sara Gonzalez & Gloria Dawson 2015.

Image credits:

1 Sara Gonzalez and Gloria Swanson

2 & 3 Sarah Spanton


5 Sarah Spanton

About waymarkingthesketchbook

Sarah Spanton is director of arts organisation Waymarking -
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