A Plea For Public Spaces: Why Local Markets Are Important
It really can’t be emphasised enough just how important local markets and public spaces are – and in so many different ways. For those of you who have experienced the joy, economic benefits, access and general happiness that public spaces and local markets provide, many of these things will see quite obvious, but for those of you who haven’t, take a moment to read on and get a feel for it yourself.
Nothing brings people together like having a shared space to associate in. Public parks are an open invitation to picnics and bbqs which are a staple of Australian culture and while this can be done in a backyard, decent sized backyards (or a backyard at all) are an increasing rarity these days. In fact, some think that this element of our culture may cease to exist within a generation, which means the only way to preserve it is through public spaces and public access.
But not only that, have you ever been to a public playground and had a chance to see children playing freely with each other? Or visited a public dog park and watched your favourite companions roam freely? These moments of social and community bonding are crucial for development and friendliness, but they apply just as much to adults as well. Think about it, when was the last time you watched a movie about romance or community that didn’t involve a public space of some kind? But there’s more than that. Local markets in particular can be both a communal gathering point and a place to make friends – who doesn’t love a local shop owner who knows the name of all their clients or happily does special requests, or employees who love being part of the local culture rather than a blank employee who is just there for the paycheck?
Speaking of just being there for the paycheck, local markets are incredibly important economically – to the point where there have been multiple studies into the importance of having local markets in which incomes can circulate. It’s a fairly famous notion that capitalism is supposed to breed innovation and support competition, and where is that more true than in a local market economy that is competing not against the monopolistic tyrants but against others in a more-or-less even playing field? And while some might argue that monopolies promote innovation, that is a pretty obvious myth. Innovation doesn’t come from a small handful of super-companies who can just buy out most of the competition, it comes from hundreds of smaller companies competing to get an edge – something that can only happen when they are each able to compete.
Okay, you say, but super companies are a fact of life, enormous supermarkets and brand outlets aren’t going away anytime soon. Correct. But there’s something else going on here. When lots of smaller businesses operate alongside each other, people are drawn to the location to do their general shopping – not just their specialised shopping. If someone wants to support local business, that’s much easier when those businesses are all located together. And people are much more willing to spend money on an outing they feel is a social experience, especially when the alternative is to just shop online. Right now, best markets in Melbourne offer exactly that sort of experience, but community and economic benefits aren’t the only thing that these spaces and markets offer to a community.
The fact is that while parking may be an issue for many local and public places, on foot access – particularly for disabled people – can often be better at local places than private companies. Think about it, public spaces are the responsibility of local governments, and local governments have legal responsibilities to ensure access to those places. A public park that can’t be accessed by the community? That’s a problem. A local store that doesn’t have doors a wheelchair can fit through? That’s a problem. An open space that lacks security cameras and protections? That’s a problem. Not enough car parks? That’s a problem. But importantly, those are all problems that have a clear solution – approach your local government. For major private enterprises, such access is completely at the whim of the company – and if they don’t want or need your patronage, they will not make any changes unless forced by… well… the local government.
And that is the key difference. If a private mega-company does the locals wrong, only the local government can step in to fix it, and even then they have limited authority – especially against the economic weight of some of these corporations. If locals need something changed about a public space or local market, the local government not only has the authority to do it, but they have the support to do it because the force for change is coming from and arbitrated by the local community. In just about every respect, the needs of the locals are served when the locals have a voice, and that is only true in public spaces and local markets.
Local Markets and Public Spaces contribute a lot to local communities, offer economic ramifications that are worthy of both academic discourse and governmental investment, and provide the ability for access that privatised options might simply choose not to engage with. A local market is an economic power for a community, and public spaces are the social and cultural cornerstones. Isn’t that something everyone wants for you, your family, and the people around you?