Monday, May 26, 2014

20 Years of Urban Design in Maine 12

In 2001, while living in Portland, I had an idea that Portland could use an outdoor market like I had gone to in Camden Town in London on the weekends. While living in London we would walk along the canal over to Camden Town on Saturday's and visit the market. There were permanent shops and large outdoor weekend stalls set up in various open spaces. Thousands of people swarmed around looking for bargains on a myriad of offerings. Never is a city so alive as when it's market stalls buzz with activity. From ancient times to today, the market continues to provide connections between citizens and place. 

Despite all the Amazon's direct shipping and Google product searching, walking through stalls looking and discovering amongst people chatting and making direct personal connections in public or semi public space has no substitute. This is the urban experience. In Portland we had at the time a glossy indoor market attempt (since failed) but no outdoor market other than little farmer's markets. In addition there were/are plenty of people who could make things and sell them to begin to develop a business. So this article discussed how Portland can use an outdoor market to bridge the gap between making things at home and selling them and actually renting retail space on Congress Street and paying utilities, etc. besides which is way too big a leap for most businesses. It appeared in the Business section. Here's the first half of the original article:

To Jumpstart Livelihoods, Create A True Marketplace
By Michael Belleau copyright 2001

What do you do when you have nothing: no job, money, higher education or particular skills?

You can attempt to get a low-wage job- say in fast food- or look for handouts. And while many of us have a career or two, many other Mainers lead simpler lives, lives that are productive and engaging, but which the shoe called career never quite fit.

These days, high school graduates are under enormous pressure to pick a career and go to college to learn it. In America, we are expected to take out huge loans and then have some vague notion of our intended profession at the end.

But when we go for our first job interview, we have no experience and at 21 we are like 10-year-olds.

For most American families, there is no daily life for children around working adults, which would help to educate and inform young people about the working world around them, and cultivate their interests for the future.

American life- middle class life- depends almost exclusively on an academic path to choosing a career, leaving a whole underclass and middle class of people to fend for themselves.

Instead of career choice in the form of textbooks, we need to offer children daily exposure to careers and the American workplace. And not just through field trips.

We offer community college as a great opportunity to learn web design or some other vocation, but with an assumption that there is money available to start an enterprise.

Where do we go to start making money to eat and cover other basic needs?

Marketplaces have traditionally served this function. In the third world, they are places of commerce. In European cities, there are many marketplaces, such as Portabello Road in London (watch Disney's "Beadknobs And Broomsticks"), in which a person can attempt to make money from imagination with little capital.

Without these marketplaces we have no mechanism to start the process of success from scratch.

I propose that Portland make a big space for a marketplace, say six to ten times the size of Monument Square. A location within walking distance to the Old Port is key, but marketplaces can be in any area. They do not call for precious sites like the Old Port.

Next blog I will include the rest of the article and discuss the step by step business success process (using the outdoor market as step two from home to storefront) while creating the urban place we all crave.

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