Great neighborhoods can be built around farmer’s markets. In fact, two of the American Planning Association’s top 10 neighborhoods are centered around, and even named after, their farmer’s markets: Pike Place Market Neighborhood in Seattle and Eastern Market in DC.

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Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market, the birthplace of Starbucks, ironically bans chain and franchise stores from operating there, though the original Starbucks store with its original topless mermaid logo continues to operate there. According to the APA website, “It is home to nearly 220 year-round commercial businesses, 210 crafters, 100 farmers, and 250 street performers, and an integral part of local sustainable agriculture efforts. The market attracts some 10 million visitors each year.”

Other impressive aspects of the market neighborhood:

Here, those living in upscale condos with views of Elliott Bay mix and mingle with occupants of five subsidized apartment buildings that are part of the historic Pike Place Market neighborhood. The market also houses four social service agencies: a health clinic, food bank, and senior and child-care centers.

Pedestrians rule in the Pike Place Market neighborhood. They have the right of way and, when sidewalks are full, walk without fear down the middle of the street. Those choosing to drive must be willing to creep at a pedestrian pace.

Pike Place Market has been threatened over the years by politicians, developers, and neglect. Grassroots activism, however, has kept the market alive and thwarted attempts to raze the market for parking lots, road-building, and high-rise development.

Closer to home, DC’s Eastern Market also earns a mention from the APA.

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Eastern Market

Eastern Market, which recently burned due to neglected maintenance issues, is situated just down Pennsylvania Ave. from the Capitol. The orange and blue metro lines have a stop there, and I highly recommend a visit next time you’re in DC.

The market has permanent stalls open every day, and hosts a farmer’s market, flea market, and various other activities weekly. Like Pike Place Market, Eastern Market is the heart of a residential neighborhood. Again, from the APA site:

The market serves a diverse and broad cross-section of people, promotes community involvement, and operates as a hub for social activity. It easily accommodates the transportation needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers, and transit users, and it meets the needs of its community for a local market

Grassroots activism has also saved the Eastern Market and its surrounding neighborhood from destruction:

Several attempts by the District of Columbia government to close the Eastern Market, most recently in the mid–1950s, spurred residents into action to sustain it… Among [residents’ other] successes was the defeat of a proposal to transform East Capitol Street into a boulevard of federal office buildings and plans to erect the city’s tallest high rise on Pennsylvania Avenue.

So what lessons can we learn for Richmond?

  • Both markets have permanent vendors and are open daily.
  • Both supplement their permanent offerings with farmers and other temporary stalls.
  • Both accommodate non-vehicular traffic.

But most central to the success of these markets, in my opinion, is the civic activism which spared them from demolition. These markets thrive because people deeply care about them and fight to keep them open.

What would make our own 17th St. Farmer’s Market worth fighting for?

Permanent stalls?

A less hostile-to-pedestrians atmosphere?

More housing?

If the experience of DC and Seattle is a guide, answering that question could help solidify the transformation of Shockoe Bottom from abandoned flood plain to thriving mixed-use neighborhood.

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