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To Market, To Market

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Everywhere, the rush is on to find the key to the rejuvenation of downtowns, town centers and neighborhoods. More often than not, localities look for the big splash –- the stadium, convention center, entertainment complex, or some other large-scale formula –- the magic bullet that never delivers on its presumed promise.

Many communities are discovering, instead, a whole host of modest, inexpensive, and readily achievable alternatives. The farmers’ market is one. Farmers’ markets are probably the most successful tool for the strengthening or regenerating of downtowns of any size, from the smallest Main Street to the most rubble-strewn inner city commercial center.

The pulse of life draws people to markets. Providing fresh food is only part of a market’s appeal. Always lively, full of human drama, rich in social interaction, and resplendent in changing color, markets offer vast opportunities for economic growth and entrepreneurial innovation.

Markets Take Root

Today, across America, so many markets are taking root with great success and multiple benefits that one does not need to go far to find an example from which to learn. Twenty years ago, for example, fewer than 200 farmers’ markets existed. According to the USDA’s 2000 National Farmers’ Markets Directory, there are 2,863 farmers’ markets operating in the United States. This compares to 1,775 in 1994 -– a 61 percent jump in just six years.

Farmers’ markets mostly occupy open air sites on plazas, streets, or parking lots, requiring very little site improvement and financial investment. … Markets activate every place in which they occur. They provide a road map to the regeneration of downtowns and reactivation of public places. Markets are the antithesis of stand-alone mega-projects that attract the car driving visitor in and out without adding to the strength of the place. …

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