MTS 01 - 30 - 2010

One of the things is immediately associated with the mention of European lifestyle is the open-air markets. Bright colors, awnings, tables that display fragrant spices and flowers, delicious fruits, and handmade crafts. Each place has these things in common, but it takes more than goods to create a successful outdoor market. Along our way, we have encountered several different versions of the farmers’ market, and each has not only a different character, but also a different level of success. The first was the marketplace in Nice, France, which was primarily a farmers’ market, with a few homemade crafts and artisans thrown into the mix. However, this space is both extremely popular and extremely successful. The overall market is shaped like a T, with the arms stretched, and the leg shortened. Because of this, navigation was easy: a shopper could see (provided that it was not packed with people) from one end to the other, and could distinguish different items for sale. This main avenue also helps to create a small community, of sorts. Rather than shopping individually, the act of going to the market becomes a communal action. Additionally, the market is comprised of two rows of booths set along a plaza between two storefronts. These booths, in turn, are occupied by sellers on all sides, so that no matter the direction, the table could never be approached ‘from the back.’ Therefore, the marketplace is engaged literally on every side: along the secondary walkways (not the main avenue between booths), the lower levels of buildings are all restaurants and shops. Again, this just furthers the dimension of activity: the greater the distance from the ‘epicenter’ (the crossroads of the market), the less use the space receives. However, even along the perimeter (with the buildings), there is still a degree of use maintained by providing permanent amenities. The second marketplace was in Florence, Italy, and although the basic setup is similar to the market of Nice, there are significant distinctions that result in vastly different levels of use of the space. The first, and most obvious, difference is the layout: rather than a simplified T, the Florence market winds through multiple streets. This complicates both the sense of direction of the visitor, as well as dissipating the concentration of traffic. Depending on the shopper, this can be either good or bad, but either way, this does decrease the communal sense of the market, and creates a more individual atmosphere. Additionally, the booths all have a ‘back wall’ that displays goods, creating a physical and visual barrier between visitors walking along the main avenue and the restaurants behind the booths. Because of this, traffic is concentrated along the main avenue, leaving the outer shops and walkways virtually deserted, destroying the layering that is present in Nice. However, in defense of the Florence market, the main customer is the tourist, whereas the Nice market served primarily locals, and perhaps the typical tourist responds more to the separation provided in Florence, rather than the community in Nice. Judging from these two markets, then, some common ‘public space’ principles might be established: the avenue is the best method for creating a sense of community, but the avenue must have different levels of engagement. In this way, places to sit back and watch, or to casually pass through, are available, rather than walking amidst the bustle of shoppers. In order to encourage this, the space should be activated from all sides, rather than have readily obvious ‘fronts’ and ‘backs’ of spaces.

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