These days, "community" is a word that for many connotes online relationships instead of block parties and family-owned businesses. In reaction to such insular living, a growing resurgence of individuals are trying to reclaim and rejuvenate shared places. New York–based nonprofit Project for Public Spaces (PPS) was founded 30 years ago to help do just that, running a vast web of programs that includes creating transit projects, public parks, and central squares.
Of its many successful schemes, the one of which we’re most fond is its market project. "A market is a metaphor for opening up the skills and assets of a community into public spaces," explains PPS president Fred Kent. "All over the world—the market, the bazaar, the souk—they’re the most active and energetic places, where you can find the greatest entrepreneurism."
Banding together with transit officials, government leaders, city planners, and local residents, PPS has become adept at facilitating the creation and revitalization of public markets. Over 200 such places across the globe, from Pike Place Market in Seattle to PPS’s newest venture in Serbia, have benefited since the market program began more than 20 years ago. In addition, PPS hosts biannual conferences (including one this year, in October) that teach others how to launch their own community initiatives.
Despite many signs to the contrary, Kent remains a relentless optimist for the future of shared spaces. "What people really want, more than anything, is a place to connect and create chance encounters with others. Everyone loves markets—we just have to find sites for them to occur."
When asked if he has a predilection for a particular market, Kent at first gracefully demurs. After a few minutes, however, he eagerly remembers that "they have the best blueberry pie at the Granville Island market in Vancouver, B.C. I try to get there once or twice a year, and I have that pie for breakfast, lunch, and dinner."