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Market Cities: Insights from our trip to London

Last month Evergreen’s Marina Queirolo and Cameron Dale travelled to London, U.K. to participate and present at the 10th International Public Markets Conference. They learned and were inspired by the work of public market global leaders.

Photo of Borough Market in London Image: Projects for Public Spaces
Image: Projects for Public Spaces

Published on July 30, 2019

By: Marina Queirolo

We know that a flourishing city requires connection — connection between one another, between residents, leadership and community groups, and connection to place.

Active public spaces are key to creating flourishing cities. Public Market, are part of the spaces that enable a daily or weekly ritual of connection between people. They are places where community comes together. Places that promote physical and social health, advance sustainability, and strengthen local economies and foster deeper relationships in the neighbourhoods they serve.

Cities like London and Barcelona are now investing in public markets and recognize they are part of the civic commons infrastructure that makes healthy, liveable cities.

Since 2015, Projects for Public Spaces has been focused on promoting the idea of Market Cities, a framework to bring diverse public markets together in cities around the world. 

At the organization’s 10th International Public Markets Conference this year, the benefits of Market Cities were shown through the conference’s themes: innovations, inclusion and impact.


Marina and Cameron at a market during the conference in London

Ken MacDonald Culinaria Research Center, UofT Scarborough; Ayaa Mohamad & Brenda Morse from Market 707 and Scadding Court Community Centre, and Cameron Dale and Marina Queirolo from Evergreen having lunch at the Borough Market during the conference. Missing in the picture: Sabina Alli from Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee Photo: Projects for Public Spaces

What is a market city?

Like many new concepts, Market City doesn’t yet have a formalized definition. What we do know is that Market Cities are places with strong networks that allow for the distribution of healthy, regionally-produced food and other goods, from flowers to furniture. 

It’s important that Market Cities encompass more than just a definition. It is an approach or framework to bringing together diverse types of public markets under shared principles to work together, strengthen their voice and increase their impact in their neighbourhood and city.

However, not all public markets look the same or have the same priorities. Farmers Markets focus on supporting growers and advancing regional development. A Street Market may be focused on inclusive economic growth and incubation. A neighbourhood market may be focused on advancing food justice, increasing access to fresh food for low-income residents. While it is essential for us to understand the differences between these types of public markets, I believe it is more important to recognize their commonalities and their strengths.

A Market City approach allows us to shift the conversation from individual to collective impact. It can bring together a community-based organization to have a stronger, more united voice to represent local needs and build more thriving, connected neighbourhoods, providing multiple economic, social, health and environmental benefits

Through my work at the Toronto Food Policy Council (TFPC) helping shape Toronto’s potential as a Market City, it’s clear that the concept of a Market City is a fluid term that takes a different shape in each community and city.

One element emerging as a common theme among successful Market Cities is that they are anchored in their local asset, context and needs of that particular place.

What London is doing well 

Our group of practitioners, academics and community organizers leading work on Public Markets in Toronto had the opportunity to participate and represent our city at the International Public Market Conference.

While we wanted to share the work we are advancing through the TFPC and inspire others to continue building Market Cities across the world, it was also important we learned from and networked with the world’s leading public market operators, developers, and thought-leaders.


Retail markets are an essential part of Londoners’ everyday experience of the city, as well as London’s international identity. They are local manifestations of London’s openness to the world in terms of the diversity of goods they offer, the traders who work in them, and the communities they serve.

Part of this experience was also getting to see how London thrives as a Market City. Here’s what we learned from markets in London, as well as through the conference:

A vendor at the Tooting Market sits outside her stall.

Each of London’s 280 retail markets has a unique character. Two of our favourites we visited were Tooting Market and Pimlico Road Farmers Market. Gloria has been a vendor at the Tooting Market for more than 20 years. Photo: Marina Queirolo

London’s markets are part of the city fabric

Many of London’s markets are either on the street itself, like Columbia Road Flower Market, or intrinsically connected to the streetscape. Similar markets can be seen in Ontario cities, like in Toronto’s Kensington Market for Pedestrian Sundays or during the Hamilton Art Crawl, but they are few and far between. 

A vendor at the market.

Pimlico Road Farmers Market is a market in a church parking lot. I love this image that  could never happen in the city of Toronto based on our current food safety regulations. Photo: Marina Queirolo

London’s markets are part of the bigger picture

Markets are part of the city’s efforts to help preserve the traditional British High Street, commercial corridors in neighbourhoods across the city,. London has learned how to enable Public Markets as a tool that adds value to the public realm, creating vibrant public spaces that allow for the formal and informal economy to coexist and thrive. 

A vendor sells flowers at the Columbia Flower Market in London
The Columbia Road Flower Market is one that is integrated onto the street in a neighbourhood in London. Photo: Marina Queirolo

London’s markets have a network of supporters (and strategies)

By far the biggest source of inspiration from the conference and our interaction with London’s market sector is seeing first-hand how important it is to have political support. Mayor Sadiq Khan’s recent policy initiative and commitment to support, preserve and promote London’s vast network of markets will have a huge impact on the future of public markets in the city. 

“Understanding London’s Markets Report” set the benchmark for growth, identifying concrete recommendations for the future of the city’s public markets. The work has been followed by the creation of the first London Markets Board help to oversee the execution of a city-wide strategy, and the development of tools to support the process, like the interactive online map.
and evaluation toolkit. More importantly, this group provides funding and resources so the Public Market sector can contribute to the broader cities priorities around People, Place and Prosperity.

Marina speaking at the public markets conference.
Marina giving a presentation at the International Public Markets Conference. Photo: Projects for Public Spaces


Bringing it back to Toronto 

As a group from Toronto, we were inspired by London, and we have much to learn from them. However, we managed to inspire them as well! 

Through TFPC, a group of public market organizations are building an informal network of diverse markets with strong neighbourhood ties and unique characters. As the chair of the Public Market Working group, I was honoured to present our work in London at the conference. 

Together we are building a Market City anchored in regional food systems, inclusive local economies and social cohesion.Our bottom-up approach — while challenging — presents a unique model anchored in inclusivity and diversity. 

Like many other cities in Canada, our markets at Evergreen Brick Works and elsewhere in Toronto are anchored by community champions. Conference participants, including many of the city staff, were inspired by our passion and commitment! For more, take a look at the full presentation.

The Canadian Public Market sector is active and poses a tremendous opportunity. If you are interested in being involved in this initiative please reach out to Marina Queirolo at