Barcelona gives voice to markets around the world

The 9th International Public Markets Conference kicked off in Barcelona on Thursday 26 March with a plenary session, where markets from places as diverse as Papua New Guinea, Katmandu, Montreal, Medellín, New Orleans and Chefchaouen shared their experiences and strategies along with the first working sessions.

The plenary session was attended by: Raimond Blasi, the President of the Barcelona Municipal Markets Institute (IMMB) and the City Councillor for Commerce, Consumer Affairs and Markets; Fred Kent, the founder and President of Project for Public Spaces (PPS); Vanessa September, a PPS board member and Vicente Guallart, the Chief Architect at Barcelona City Council. The 9th Conference has been organised by the IMMB and PPS, an American association, with backing from the UN agency for urban settlements, UN-Habitat.

The Mayor of Barcelona, Xavier Trias, had earlier on welcomed in the more than 400 registered participants, along with Steve Davies, the co-founder and Executive Vice President of PPS, and Frederic Saliez, representing UN-Habitat.

Xavier Trias highlighted Barcelona as a city designed on a human scale, where the markets, given the future challenges, were the powerhouses of the economy and helped to improve the well-being and quality of life of its citizens.

Ensuring the markets' continuity

The Mayor also pointed out how the renovation work on the city's markets - whether recently carried out, in progress or due to start soon - was a response to a decision to make them more competitive, adapt them to the needs of the 21st century and ensure their survival.

For his part, the Councillor for Commerce, Consumer Affairs and Markets, Raimond Blasi, outlined the keys to the Barcelona market model. First, markets needed to adapt to today's needs and realities, a goal that had to be achieved by renovating the sales areas and improving the services they offered, from introducing home deliveries to creating new parking spaces. Other improvements included a better range of products, new operators and longer opening hours.

Second, the Barcelona councillor stressed the need to maintain the current public-private partnership (PPP) through ongoing contact between market traders and the City Council, as well as other neighbourhood and city bodies and organisations. Finally, he pointed out this PPP model extends to looking for the funding required for the renovation projects.

Experiences and strategies

The conference provided an opportunity for participants to hear a wide range of speakers talking about the experiences of markets in places as diverse as Papua New Guinea, Katmandu, Montreal, Medellín, New Orleans and Chefchaouen, as well as strategies, such as the ones being implemented by the latter two cities. In New Orleans' case, this involved giving renewed prominence to a historical market, the Frenck Market; in Chefchaouen's case, this concerned promoting local produce with the involvement of many social sectors.


The first working session discussed modern trends and how markets had not lost their relevance in a competitive marketplace. Speakers maintained a change was taking place in consumer habits that markets could not ignore.

Larry Lund, the head of the Real Estate Planning Group, highlighted how, according to the latest studies, 42% of the population usually eat outside the home, local produce has the edge over organic - "it's better to know who's selling you the product", he said - and now more pre-cooked foods are sold than food in shops for cooking. His remarks mainly referred to the situation in the United States. He also said we were beginning to see the creation of food hubs, which were bringing together farmers, consumers and people from the restaurant. But he then qualified this, saying it was an incipient urban phenomenon. And he warned that population changes were contributing towards the rise of very small households, where there was very little activity in the kitchen and breakfast, lunch and evening meals were no longer occasions where people coincided: "They eat when they can or when they feel like it". Again he was quick to point out that this was a situation that was only just beginning to appear, though that it did not mean we should ignore it.

René Van Gool, the owner and Managing Director of VGA Food Concepts at Rotterdam Market, agreed with Lund's remarks and pointed out: "consumers now want more convenience, availability, help, a service", in reference to home deliveries and hours that combine with their work and family life. A food space that does not take account of its customers' work situation is hardly likely to succeed, as Rotterdam's old open-air market showed. It lost customers because its hours were not compatible with theirs.

Marcel Van Ooyen, the Executive Director of GrownNYC Green Market in New York described how the non-profit organisation is gradually gaining recognition among the public and city institutions thanks to its idea of making consumers aware of the benefits of healthy food and local produce. They organise events to promote markets, mainly fruit and vegetable markets, including some at night in the markets, and produce their own beer made from maize grown in the United States. They are supported by the Federal Government, which offers people with limited resources an economic incentive to buy at the Green Markets. Ooyen believes support for local farmers is key, putting them in contact with consumers and making the latter aware of the advantages of a healthy diet in which fresh produce plays a big part (especially with a population like America's, where being overweight is one of the causes of serious health problems).

Markets as engines of entrepreneurship

Participants in another working session, which Òscar Martín, Head of Studies at IMMB, was involved in, heard about two private markets in cities as different as Berlin and Hong Kong, while in the afternoon attendees at the 'Save the Market!' sessionlearned at first hand about the attempts to dress up the conversion of Hanoi's markets into luxury shopping centres and supermarkets, using the media as a means of repression.

Especially interesting was one of the final sessions of the afternoon, on 'Markets as Stepping Stones', where participants heard three experiences for ensuring people with limited resources get business opportunities in places as different as the Italian city of Turin, Melbourne in Australia and Port Moresby, in Papua New Guinea.