The Future of Public Markets in Barcelona (Visual Sociology #006)

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The Future of Public Markets
by Claudia Vallvé, Barcelona

Fresh markets are an essential part of Mediterranean countries. Not only as a place for shopping groceries and fresh food. Fresh markets are also (or used to be) the social centre of our cities.
A market is a public space run by local authorities. Stands are owned by the local council who rents them, in a long-term basis, to the traders, who exploit the business. The law establishes that any city with more than 5.000 inhabitants must have a public market. The reason is a historical one: originally markets were created to ensure food supply in every city. However things have changed a lot from then, and now the situation is completely different. Supermarkets, big surfaces and commercial areas are a strong competition for local public markets. The economic crisis has made things still more complicated and the income of most of the traders has decreased considerably.
However, many markets are still working with an “old fashioned” model. They are opened only in the morning, many stands don’t accept credit cards, there is no home delivery, it’s difficult to park around the market facilities, etc. As a consequence young people has stopped going to the market.
Public authorities are worried. In many places, markets entail a cost for the tight municipal accounts. But markets represent rooted values in our culture. They provide fresh food, many times from local producers and they also contribute to social and economic cohesion of our cities.
I’ve been working for the county government of Barcelona in order to find new solutions for public local markets. During the last year I’ve been conducting focus groups with all the stakeholders involved: public servants, politicians and traders, about the challenges and opportunities of public markets. In total, 79 persons have participated in the process.
During the groups people were asked to give their opinions around three main questions: what do we do now that we should stop doing?, what do we do now that we have to do in a different way? and what do we are not doing that we should start doing?. At the end of the process we collected more than 350 proposals (of course, many of them were coincidental).

For me, the most relevant conclusion of the whole process is the difficulty of understanding that emerges when so many different actors are involved, and the importance of creating spaces that give the opportunity to speak and to generate dialog. This has probably been the first time that all these actors have been given a voice, in an equal basis. And the most astonishing thing for me has been the high degree of auto-criticism shown by most of the participants, and the creativity and innovation they have demonstrated in their proposals.

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Claudia Vallvé (claudiavallve@xarxaconsultors.com) is a sociologist based in Barcelona. She is founding partner of Xarxa Consultors (www.xarxaconsultors.com), a network of freelance professionals working in social research and consultancy. Claudia develops social investigations in different areas – mainly related to social welfare, employment, education and gender issues. In her blog, Cuestión de Método, she reflects on methodological issues (http://claudiavallve.com/, in Spanish and Catalan). Claudia also wrote this visual sociology article about tourists in Barcelona.

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