A Tale of Two Markets

This month sees the start of a project aimed to stimulate Krakow into thinking about how best to make use of its food markets, especially Plac Nowy in Kazimierz. The project, organised by the “Przyjazny Kazimierz” association and Slow Food Wroclaw, will bring experts from London to Krakow to explore how urban food markets can help in regenerating surrounding areas, influence urban development and benefit the local and wider area.

The project begins with a visit by George Nicholson, a trustee of London’s Borough Market, and Simone Crofton, its chief executive, who will meet Krakow’s councillors and residents and share their experiences of turning London’s oldest food market around from near bankruptcy into one of the most popular tourist and gastronomic destinations in the city over a period of only 10 years.

Borough Market is a wholesale and retail market that can trace its history back to Roman times. Today, it is a registered charity run by a board of trustees, all of who live in the vicinity of the market, which serves both locals and visitors; between 20-30,000 people visit every weekend to sample and buy fine produce from the UK and Europe. Borough still operates as a wholesale market at night, one of the last in central London, but a decade ago the increasing popularity of supermarkets forced the trustees to think up new ways to keep it afloat. As a result, Borough is now the UK?s highest quality food market and is recognised as one of the world?s largest food markets. By providing direct access to the consumers, it allows farmers and small artisan producers to stay in business.

The trustees of Borough Market believe that in order to fulfil their main charitable purpose of holding a market, they have a duty to manage the activities of the market and its investments efficiently and also to bring about the regeneration and refurbishment of the market and its surrounding shops, flats and offices. As a result, the area around the market has seen new businesses move in and has become a trendy neighbourhood to live and go out in. It was these associated benefits that particularly intrigued the “Przyjazny Kazimierz” association. “We were interested in how they had taken something that was on its knees and turned it [around] to become not only a world-class market it its own right, but also a catalyst for the revitalisation of the whole area, and all in such a short period of time,” says Marcin Lassota, a Krakow lawyer and spokesman for the association. “We wanted to show how Plac Nowy could fulfil its traditional function and bring economic and social benefits to the city, so we decided to invite them to come and share their story. To our delight, they agreed.”

The association was formed in January 2008 to fight for the reversal of the changes to local regulations that were introduced by Krakow’s councillors in August 2007. The changes allowed the sale of alcohol on all of Krakow?s market places up until midnight, and to 2 a.m. on Plac Nowy in particular. This caused outrage among Kazimierz residents, who already suffer from the noise and debris that comes hand in hand with night-time partying. Since then, research carried out by the association has uncovered a number of concerning facts about the privately held company that leases Plac Nowy. For example, its original 10-year lease was extended by a further 30 years in 2002 without a public tender. Furthermore, its owners, who are also traders on the market, enjoy preferential rates for their stalls, their costs covered by the company and a share in the substantial profits that the market generates. The company has stated that they have future plans to open a café serving coffee, cakes, beer and wine on the Plac as the market is doing so poorly.

The open meeting with Borough Market will be held at the Jewish Community Centre, next door to the Tempel Synagogue, on ul. Miodowa at 6 pm on Thursday 25 September. Subsequent events are planned for December 2008 with architect Carolyn Steel, author of The Hungry City, a new book that outlines how cities’ need for food has shaped architecture and urban design, and April 2009 with Cheryl Cohen, a director of London Farmers’ Markets Ltd., which runs 16 certified farmers’ markets in and around London.

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