Preserving Adaptive Marketplaces

Donofrio’s description of Boston’s Faneuil Market Hall inspired me to think about other historic food markets with significant urban roles that are also being used to attract visitors under questionably “synthetic” narratives. The day-to-day visitors of the market place have changed over the years since the Agora of the ancient world. Today we are more responsible for our own food shopping (and cooking) and so the ways we experience markets and food shopping has also changed. When we go to a market like Faneuil Market Hall or Chelsea Market in NYC, Redding Market Terminal or Covent Garden Market in London, we are literally feeding into a material way in which to relive an intangible past.

These particular markets listed above cater especially towards tourists. Tourist markets count on visitors who are drawn by the food and the idea that those markets have been there for a very long time (so, the food must be good). People believe though that more than good food connects such contemporary markets with their original counterparts. The legacy of such markets is inspired by their history. Covent Garden, Chelsea Market, etc. have claimed their locations as part of their identities, which is another reason why they attract tourists. They remain destinations for grumbling tummies but are organized in ways that have adapted to current food trends and modern ways in which food is presented. In his essay Donofrio includes an anecdote about some Bostonians who would have been happy to see the food stalls at Faneuil Market Hall disappear because “the food vending made the market a mess with its “sawdust, grease, tangled lettuce leaves and carrot crates.”” This dirty filter disturbed the impeccable historic image of the “Cradle of Liberty,” spoon-fed to tourists—when really the image of the ground strewn with pieces of lettuce is much more realistic of an active marketplace. The 18th century atmosphere of Boston’s original markets were not curated to appeal to tourists, they served a functional purpose for everyday people who needed to buy their food. Donofrio goes on to say—and I think this is an important way to frame how we think about markets and preservation efforts generally—that the way in which the marketplace has been adapted today is not a rejection of its original purpose, but simply another layer that is being added onto its history, which in this case, is in more in keeping with its origins than if Faneuil Market were to be relocated altogether. Targeting markets towards tourists should not be the only way to preserve them either as “synthetic reconstructions” or as a more authentic part of “historic continuity.”

Neighborhood farmers markets might better resemble older forms of marketplaces but access to them is limited by location and possibly financially—they can be pricey. What design would make it possible for us to experience markets from a more historic point of view? I also wonder how we can measure the value of a market space that is not permanent but has cultural integrity. The nature of the market is extremely temporal—personnel, the stands, all the pieces of the market appear and disappear weekly and/or seasonally, so how do we catch something so fragmentary and mobile to preserve it?

Reding Market, Philadelphia.

Chelsea Market, New York City.

Covent Garden Market, London.

Faneuil Market, Boston.

Faneuil Market, Boston.



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