By 2002 it was clear that public markets–with their multiple roles as social gathering places, small business engines, and providers of food security–could do more for local economies than the conventional approach of funding mega-projects like stadiums, convention centers and malls. Backed by the Ford Foundation, PPS embarked on crucial new research to determine how markets could leap from the margins of economic development strategies to the mainstream.

After interviewing 671 customers and 157 vendors from eight markets, PPS showed in rigorous detail how public markets function as incubators for small businesses and training grounds for independent entrepreneurs. Low start-up costs make it easy for vendors to finance their new businesses, often without the aid of lending institutions. And the spin-off benefits for nearby businesses are huge, according to PPS research, since 60 percent of market customers also visit neighborhood stores on the same days.

PPS continues to explore new ways for public markets to enrich the public realm.

Equipped with this new evidence of public markets’ significant role in economic development, PPS and its partners reached out to the federal Office of Community Services (OCS), which then initiated the first dedicated federal funding for public markets since the 1930s, creating a $1,000,000 grant program. The OCS funding will not only create employment and business development opportunities in low-income areas, it also signals the emergence of public markets as a viable form of economic development that garners support from across the political spectrum.

Meanwhile, PPS continues to explore new ways for public markets to enrich the public realm. This year, with support from Ford, we distributed $1,000,000 in grants to seven public market projects in communities undergoing shifts in demographics and real estate values. The grantees promise to yield surprising innovations–from a group in Athens, Ohio looking to inject social and economic life into a declining strip mall, to a project in Oakland’s Fruitvale Village that will investigate how to integrate markets with transit and housing. PPS helped put public markets back on the map, and we will continue to lead the way through research, education, and technical assistance, showcasing all that markets can accomplish in a community.

Public Markets as Catalysts for Local Economic Revival was last modified: March 8th, 2012 by Project for Public Spaces