Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Benefits of Markets

***Originally posted November 19, 2010***

Throughout history, public markets have been essential to human commerce.  From camel caravans, to
Barcelona market halls, to the streets of Deep Ellum, markets have been an ever present companion to the exchange of local and foreign goods.

Since World War II, however, American culture has tended towards car-centric development where lateral expansion is favored over dense urbanization.  Commerce has been relegated to strip malls that necessitate parking requirements, whereas markets have been forgotten as we've been pulled further and further away from our neighbors.

Despite a plethora of competition for commerce and retailing, especially here in Dallas, public markets are important resources that give value to a place.  Markets have three potential benefits: 1) creating dynamic places, 2) providing economic opportunity, and 3) inspiring social contact.

1) Positive public activities are crucial to the revitalization of a neighborhood void of urban development.  To entice people back onto the streets, they need places to go to that are designed for them to use and enjoy.  The objective is to create an inviting, convivial space in otherwise forgotten areas.

2) Public markets provide a venue for small businesses to develop, incubate, and experiment without the risk of occupying a brick and mortar location.  Entrepreneurs benefit from exposure and contact with people, as customers can talk directly to business owners and product creators.  Additionally, the businesses within the surrounding community can benefit from the market's drawing power.

3) In a time when human interaction is filtered through screens, handheld and otherwise, public markets offer neutral ground where it's acceptable to talk to strangers.  Buying, selling, and socializing are activities that encourage the gathering of disparate peoples, the discovery of similarities, and the enjoyment of connections made.

The Deep Ellum Outdoor Market was created with this philosophy in mind.  Ultimately, the Market's goals are to spur economic development and to put feet on the streets of Deep Ellum.  The challenge we face is persuading people to eschew the status quo, leave their social bubble, and support local economy.

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