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Special Report - URBACT Markets: using city marketplaces to drive growth and regenerate neighbourhoods

Edited on

21 June 2019
Read time: 3 minutes

More than just a place to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, Europe’s markets can be highly effective drivers for economic development and urban regeneration. URBACT Markets, a new URBACT project now in its Development Phase, will focus on sharing best practice for creating and managing both street and covered markets. We take a look at the objectives for the months ahead and the plans for achieving them.

With Barcelona as its Lead Partner, the URBACT Markets project initially features four other cities with an interest in market trading: Torino in Italy; London in the UK; Plovdiv in Bulgaria; and Suceava in Romania. However, the number of cities involved will increase in the near future, as the project is currently seeking new partners. What they will all share is an awareness that markets have a valuable role to play, not just economically, but also in terms of social, environmental, planning, tourism and community development. It’s this ‘bigger picture’, in terms of the positive externalities, that links city markets so closely to the work of the URBACT programme.

A million people behind market stall counters

Clearly, a primary benefit of the estimated 25,000 markets in the European Union is trade and employment. According to an EU study from 2008, about a million people work in covered and open air street markets across the Member States, with some 450,000 traders generating revenues of €40 billion a year. The five partner cities currently involved in the URBACT project have a total of 150 markets between them, employing about 10,000 retailers. Successful markets provide work and stimulate entrepreneurship among the thousands of SMEs who operate in them, offering real opportunities for creativity and innovation in local trade. The location of markets is equally important. Disadvantaged neighbourhoods can be regenerated, with markets bringing not only economic activity, but also triggering an improvement in infrastructure services such as traffic management, parking and public transport. Markets also provide an opportunity to bring historic local buildings back into productive use for the community. In short, they can be an invaluable tool in urban planning.

A broad range of benefits

Important though these aspects are, there are further externalities that make Europe’s markets of considerable value to city living, notably their contribution to a low-carbon economy. Local, shorter supply chains for food markets are one side of the equation, while the focus on people accessing their markets on foot provides the other. Along with offering environmental sustainability, markets can also promote healthy eating habits, build relationships between stallholders and customers, and encourage integration by giving ethnic groups a chance to find work and to introduce ethnic specialities. However, Núria Costa, Head of Communications at Barcelona city council, points out: “There are a number of challenges to be faced as well. Given the current austerity, many cities have limited budgets to develop their markets – some of which have fallen into decline - while in some countries, city centre market areas are being sold by authorities to developers.”

Key issues: regeneration, sustainability and employment

The task of the URBACT Markets project is to address these opportunities and challenges, by posing a basic question: ‘How can we learn from each other to make the most of our markets’? At the moment, the project’s response is broken down into three broad areas of study, each of which has been assigned its own Working Group, led by a different city with a particular expertise in the given area. However, the arrival of new partners may well result in the creation of further Working Groups, reflecting new areas of mutual interest. Currently, town centre regeneration will be led by Barcelona, the low-carbon economy and local supply will be led by Westminster and promoting employment and entrepreneurship is being led by Torino. Suceava and Plovdiv will be involved in all three Working Groups, with activities organised at both local and transnational level.

Learning from Barcelona’s planning success

All three Working Group leaders have valuable experience to share. Barcelona, for example, has been hugely successful in combining markets with regeneration. It has Europe’s largest network of city food markets, with 39 in total, plus four non-food markets. By making them part of Integral District Plans, the authorities have brought life to the historic centre and helped improve the city’s deprived areas. London brings expertise from managing the famous Portobello Road antiques market, the food specialists of Borough Market and the transformation of a run-down site into the thriving Brixton Village Market. Torino, which has Europe’s largest open air market at Porta Palazzo and is near the headquarters of the Slow Food movement, has considerable experience of creating successful international food brands and trends, and bringing culinary traditions to market.

Kickoff meeting to set the agenda

The project’s Development Phase will get underway with a Kickoff Meeting in Barcelona on 21-22 June and will end in November with a Final Meeting in Torino of those taking part. Among the early decisions will be the appointment of new partners for the project. “We are looking for a final total of 8-10 cities, and have received a great deal of interest from across the EU,” said Núria Costa. “Non-EU cities such as Istanbul, Beirut and Cairo are also interested in the solutions we can provide.” The current phase will mainly focus on producing a Baseline Study of how the three areas being tackled by the Working Groups affect each partner, and will also see the appointment of project staff and Local Support Groups. “We want to show people what markets are capable of delivering,” Núria Costa added. “Doing that involves exchanging best practice but it’s also about making cities realise they need to preserve their markets, to secure investment and to adapt them to consumer trends of the 21st century.” ________________________________________________________________________

19 Projects in Development Phase


URBACT Markets is one of 19 projects approved by the URBACT II Monitoring Committee in April. They have now entered the six-month Development Phase and are expanding to include more cities, with the goal being to move into the Implementation Phase. All projects reflect the key pillars of the Europe 2020 strategy for innovative, sustainable and inclusive cities.

Read More:

Results of the URBACT II third Call for proposals - URBACT Website

Copyright photo: Jordi Casañas/IMMB