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Whitecross Street is one of London’s earliest street markets. But it had fallen into decline, with 40 per cent of the shops empty and the market itself reduced to five traders selling their goods from plastic boxes on the ground.
A new trading strip was included as part of a strong and simple new design. This changed the feel of the street and created a step free environment which feels pedestrian friendly and is used by traders and for café seating. Now there are up to 50 stalls on market days, and Whitecross Street has a growing reputation for good food.
Unemployed local residents have taken the opportunity to begin trading: one resident who sells cakes made in his flat said that running the stall “has changed me psychologically in a way that five years under the doctor didn’t”.
Shop fronts have been improved with heritage economic regeneration scheme grants, and vacancy rate reduced. As one local pub landlady observed: “There’s life to the street now and a real sense of community.”
Through out my research, I have thought about the temporary market as a ‘place’ and ‘space’ where my design strategies would be tested, or in short, where I would ‘design’. During the recent phase of my field work and design work, I found temporary markets to have a catalytic character - where they become a catalyst for underutilized places, where they became an agent of revitalization for cities and towns, and economically, temporary markets are also catalyst for the vendors and their business, through which businesses expand beyond the market stalls.
I was looking at Putrajaya, and thought how I would be designing or planning for a market in this young, new city. Putrajaya is relatively new compared to Kuala Lumpur, and it is a planned city. It was interesting to find that ‘sites for night market and farmer’s market’ is included in the local planning guideline; although the actual sites have not yet been designated. The current night market and farmer’s market operate on a vacant lot at the government building precinct. At the very least, the city council has regarded the ‘need’ for a market site in their planning, and this is a positive development when other market sites at other cities are not part of the city’s or town’s physical planning.
As I read for information on Putrajaya, from the newspaper articles and events listed in their website, I can deduce 2 major things: a potential, and an issue.
The first is that Putrajaya seems to be promoting itself for events and hobbyist sports, such as water sports, hot air balloon events, cycling, marathon, and perhaps more that I have yet to list. Events are among the things that help cities become lively, as crowds that the events draw give ‘soul’ to the city and makes it vibrant. Putrajaya is often noticed as being very quiet at night, and personally to me, because it is a new city, it has not yet have that sort of liveliness or some chaos as what we would see in cities or suburbs that have been there for 20 years or more. I wouldn’t say there’s anything wrong with the city, but perhaps it’s a matter of time for it to accumulate its own meanings, thus, acquiring it’s senses of place. I am suggesting that senses of place builds through time and it’s a process, and it’s not as simple as designers or policy-makers to ‘impose’ what senses of place of a city should be. I am regarding the direction that Putrajaya is going with organizing the events as a potential, and this will be going in line with a strategy that I’m proposing, which is the temporary markets as a “co-activator”.
The second issue was of the market buildings. This may be a one-of case study issue, but I have found it to be a common one spreading across the country. It was the problem of a market building being built as part of a community facilities, usually multi-storey, that ends up being underutilized and soon almost closing down. The issue that they had was not about facilities, because these markets have been designed with almost ‘modern’ market facilities. It wasn’t about the aesthetics of the buildings either. Reading about the case of a market at precinct 16, from about 10 vendors that operated there, it ended up with only 1 vendor. Why? According to the vendors, people didn’t come to the market, as they would rather buy their fish and vegetables at the bigger supermarkets or hypermarkets. I started interrogating on my own, asking questions why this market had failed, when it has been designed with ‘proper’ buildings and facilities. Here are some of my thoughts:
- I can rule out facilities and proper building.
- Could it be location? I would have to find this out on site. Is the location inconvenient?
- Could it be of the demographics and how their daily schedule match (or mismatch) with the market? If the suburb is inhabited by working class families, there is a big chance that both husband and wife work. If we think about their daily schedule, they would go out to work in the morning, perhaps drop their kids to school, then go to work. After work, pick their kids up from school, and go home. By the evening time, the market building would already be closed, and the best bet to get groceries is either to go to shops, or go to the hypermarket+mall where they can park their car, get groceries, and have tea or dinner, before going home.
- Could it be about visibility? Do people know that there’s something going on ‘inside’ the market?
Here, for this, I’m thinking of temporary markets as a “re-activator” for underutilized spaces like the market building.
Strategy 1: Temporary Markets as “co-activator”
Having analyzed the ability of temporary markets to draw crowds, I am suggesting that temporary markets can become co-activators for events held in Putrajaya. Events usually become ‘event-like’ and ‘festive’, when there is crowds. Generally, that is another goal of cities holding events, other than to make money from the events, is to make the city lively. We can also see how events are often organized in order to promote tourism at specific destinations. But what is events without people right? I have found that temporary markets have the ability to ‘draw’ crowds - because of their visibility, their ‘active’ or ‘animated’ atmosphere, their products, and most importantly is because of their ‘familiarity’ amongst Malaysians. Seeing tables, tents or umbrellas at streets or parking lots is synonymous to temporary markets, which ever kinds it may be. Furthermore, having temporary markets at event sites act as support services for the events - place where people get drinks, food, merchandise, and vendors to show case their products, which may be related (or not) with the events. The temporality and mobility of the markets also makes them flexible that they can shift location or tag along any other events at other places. Economically, they also generate a chain of transactions. Socially, they become a co-activator to make a city lively and in tune with what people or the general population may want. Having temporary markets means that cities won’t have to need permanent services for the events. The markets can ‘share’ the facilities provided for the events (such as parking, toilets and prayer rooms), but will have to negotiate in terms of the space for operation. Since events are usually held on occasional basis, like monthly, bimonthly, bi-annually, or annually, then the city or service vendors would have less maintenance of buildings to do compared to having a permanent buildings for shops/restaurants that only operate occasionally.
Strategy 2: Temporary Markets as “re-activator”
This strategy is based on the case of the underutilized market building, and looking at the positive case of the currently operating night market at Putrajaya. Temporary markets can help to ‘re-activate’ underutilized spaces. Looking at the current site where the night market and the farmer’s market operate twice a week at the government building precinct, the market has put ‘value’ into a vacant land. The city has made use of an empty lot and this is a good strategy. My research on Danau Kota midnight market and pasar malam sentul have also discovered how the markets become catalyst for vendors at nearby food courts. In the case of Danau Kota, the food court was not as successful as the other restaurants and cafes at the shoplots surrounding it (another potential topics for architects to research on). Conversation with the vendors have informed me that after the midnight market started to operate, vendors at the foodcourt started to extend their business hours, to capture the midnight market visitors, as well as delivering food to the market vendors. The same case applies to Sentul night market, with the same case of underutilized food court. Vendors from the food court would come to the night market and take drink orders from the night market vendors, and then deliver them. This kind of catalytic relationship is a positive one, and can be regarded as a possible strategy to act as a re-activator of underutilized places. For the market building in precinct 16, I’m suggesting temporary markets as the “re-activator” and possibly aligning the operations of the market building with that of the community’s schedule. The first strategy I’m proposing to test is for the weekday operation, which is, what if the market building operates in the evening instead of morning, to capture the after-work customers? With that, a temporary ‘tea-market’ (i.e. vendors that sell fried banana fritters and traditional delicacies as usually found by the road side) can be set up as ‘visible attractors’. Here, the temporary stalls attract back people with their daily evening ritual of buying tea snacks in the evening, but channeled to the site of the market. Hence there, customers can buy their groceries from the market building. The challenge here is to change the schedule of the market building vendors from morning to evening. But I’m seeing that since the facilities is already there, this strategy has little risk in testing whether changing the timing and coupling the ‘tea-market’ as a catalyst can help to re-activate the market building. For the weekend, the temporary catalyst can then be a weekend market, or pasar minggu. This suggestion was in fact suggested by one of the community member in the news paper article, where she suggested the city council to do a ‘pasar minggu’ to pull back crowds to the market. Pasar minggu is a temporary market set up similar to the night market but held in the weekends. Since people don’t work in the weekends, then it is another great opportunity for the tea market to now act as a ‘breakfast market’ where families can go out for breakfast, and then do their grocery shopping at the market. The challenge for this proposal will be the negotiation of space to operate on, and the share of parking spaces, which may overflow onto the streets. Here, the city council would need ‘soft infrastructures’ which is the services of organizations such as RELA to manage the traffic.
Strategy 3: Temporary Markets as “activator”
Strategy 1 and 2 put temporary markets as co-activator and re-activator of place. In Strategy 3, I’m proposing for temporary markets to become ‘activators’ for other temporary activities, like ‘generators’. My studies have found that temporary markets act not only as a commercial space, but also social space and cultural space. More activities can be combined with the markets, such as leisure and recreation, making temporary market spaces more heterogeneous or hybrid. What if temporary markets were given specific designated site to operate? For example, an open lot, with parking spaces, with facilities such as toilets and prayer rooms. Here, the market is taken away from the streets and its context, and put upon its own site. What will it lose and what will it gain? Firstly, the location must have the necessary criteria or ‘the hard infrastructure’ - such as adjacency to an “anchor” (commercial venues or residential venues) and access points. Shall built facilities is to be designed specifically for this space, such as toilets, prayer rooms and parking, then this site would need the “soft infrastructures”, which is the ‘organizers’ and the list of ‘temporary programmes’ to occupy the site on different days. This strategy of having the temporary market as the activator would be able to generate other emergent temporary markets and events, that may be able to attract different crowds and clientele (such as crafts market, dessert market, or any endless ideas of thematic markets), as well as mobile recreational events that use temporary set ups. Through this strategy, the site almost become a ‘testing ground’ for businesses and events, as part of a process for building a new community’s senses of place. But they are not merely testing ground as over time, these diverse and changing activities will be assimilated as part of the community’s place identity if they choose to continue them. Either way, a multipurpose and less-determinant space holds more potential than a specific, or single-function space. It allows a space to be determined by occupation, the community and time, rather than definite and finished at once.
I will work in this strategies hypothetically and simulating them at real sites speculatively in my next phase of work. The main aim of this part of project will be to test how the findings from studying and speculatively redesigning the night markets inform me on how I would engage with temporary markets at a new city, and in some instances, use the markets as a strategy for developing parts of the city.
A Guidebook for the City: Accommodating and Mapping Localness Through the Exploration of Night Markets
Summary of today’s meeting with co-supervisor (cSV):
- I need to think of my maps, design, and works now in terms of how I want to “represent” them. Currently, they are on A4 and A3 prints, and they are pinned up on the wall. At the end of the PhD, other then the exhibition, I will still have to produce an exegesis, or called an ADR - which typically will be in a form of a book or a collection of books. I need to work out how the maps will be presented in a book, using a combination of images, diagrams and texts. And maybe, I would need to have several diagrams, images, and texts just to explain one map. At the moment, I’m showing to much stuff in one map that it’s hardly legible. So I need to find a way of organizing them, so that they will become clear to me, as well as clear to the audience/readers/examiners.
- I need to define what are the ‘key criteria’ that I found to be most important in my work. Knowing which are the framework that is enabling the operation of the markets, and which are the inputs within the framework, will then inform me of where I ‘act’ as a designer. This is a vital point, because it will lead me on determining one of the outcomes of the Phd - will it a set of guidelines for a setting up of a night market? will it a set of different frameworks? because now I know that it’s not about redesigning the stalls. The stall is just one input inside the framework, but what makes the night market operate and allowing it to sustain its localness is this framework. So I need to map the framework in each of the scale that I’ve done: the city scale, the street scale, and the operation/experiential scale.
- I was still putting a big question mark on this other bit of my phd, which are the maps. I wanted to experiment how a map can become an agent of experiencing the city differently, or reading/understanding the city in another way. It is about opening up our notion of localness, which I’m positioning as a combination of both local and global. I realized today in the meeting that it doesn’t necessarily have to be about designing a map for a tourist, but my existing maps should show those qualities. For example, in the vendor journey map, I could explode certain points, and zoom into specific products that he sell, while making all the other less important routes tinier, and this multi-scale combination using multi-media of photos, texts, diagrams, IS a way of showing people how to read a city differently. So in a way, my mapping ‘methods’ become a micro-tactic on its own in illustrating the idea carried in this phd.
- Do things in at least 3 scales and 3 media.
- There is A LOT to do. I MUST WRITE WRITE WRITE. Note: There’s still a collection of conversations, urban diaries and conversation maps that I haven’t really done properly.
I was thinking about “ingredients” of a place, as a metaphor of thinking about the elements, characters, senses, people that make up place. Like the food, the combination of ingredients make the food what it is, what looks like, what it smells like, what it taste like. And like place, the combination of different characters make up what the place is. Then I started thinking about creating a more potentially ‘poetic’ title for my research. The titles for my PhD change every semester at every GRC, just because the body of work also changes and open up to new things. I started with a very basic straight forward title to now I think is a more poetic, perhaps catchier than ordinary one. But either way, what’s important is for me to get the message of what my Phd is about in these several key words, while at the same, the title become something that I can get a hold to, and grasp closely, to keep my focus through out the research.
Semester 1: “Designing and Curating Street Market Experiences: the Locals, the Tourists, the Urban Processes”
At the beginning of the research I was interested in understanding how people experience street markets, or temporary markets, in the city. It was also about recognizing how the city have changed, and how that change affect the markets. I questioned the issues of gentrification and modernization, and how that has taken away some of the essence of what a street market is. At the same time, I was arguing that how we portray an identity of a local place is not about resorting to ornaments and symbols to portray a certain culture. I believe it is more than that, and this is what I had to explore and open up the idea of what local is. In the context of tourism and urban design, gentrification usually resorts to a re-creation or re-presentation of an identity, or an imposed identity of symbolism to a place so that the character of a place become ‘clearly visible’. I wanted my research to expand this idea, through experimenting with designs for existing street markets, and then questioning how people experience it.
Semester 2: “Designing the Street Market: Complexity and Richness within the Ordinary”
My second GRC was after I conducted my first phase of field work for 6 weeks in Kuala Lumpur. I visited 4 street markets: Jalan Petaling, Jalan Masjid India, Lorong Haji Taib, Pasar Malam Lorong TAR. This first phase of field work was aimed for me to get re-acquainted and become re-familiarize to the markets, which all I have visited before when I was doing my undergraduate. The ‘researcher’ in me was visiting the markets for the first time, while the ‘visitor’ in me was trying to experience the market like any other person who went there. My field work methods then were observation, looking for patterns of appropriations, photo-documenting, analyzing how the spaces were occupied through time, engaging in conversations with several visitors and vendors, and observing foreign tourists. I was assisted by 6 female Landscape Architeture students, who were later asked to write about their own experiences visiting the markets. For this semester, I extracted the qualities of the markets which make the market a complex and rich place. It was opening up the idea from the first semester which was to discover ‘more’ about what makes up the place. So this time, it was about extracting and teasing out the market’s inside, picking out specific things which inform me on how they operate as a place, and trying to put those findings side by side with how people (the visitors and vendors) experience them.
Semester 3: “Designing the Street Market: Unfolding the Local and Global”
Semester 3 was quite a big shift for me. I found the writings of Doreen Massey and was interested in her compelling argument about a progressive sense of place, and thinking about place as a process. Since I’ve look at the market from the inside in semester 2, for this phase of my work I looked at how the market relates to the outside - like, the global processes. During this time, I’ve narrowed my focus of study into night markets and temporary markets, because street market still has a wide scope as it includes the permanent ones that operate daily. I became more interested with temporary markets, like night markets, midnight market and weekend market because they are temporary, they barely leave a trace, but they still need space to operate. The narrowing down on the typology of the market was to help me focus and get deeper into the topics. In demonstrating the relationship of the local and global, I had used food as a datum for a project. For one project, I collected 6 restaurants around Melbourne that sell Nasi Lemak. For another project, I traced back the ingredients of all components that make up plate of Nasi Lemak. Through this project, I demonstrated how the local and global are connected, how a food, like a place, is made up systems, and how these trajectories are vital components to how a place operates and what the place becomes. Going back to the night market then, I experimented with alterning the design of a night market stall, as see how this affects the larger system, atmosphere, performance and characters of the market.
Semester 4: Accommodating & Mapping Localness
Semester 4, the recent GRC presentation held last May 2010 recently, was yet another big leap for me. Having known what I know from the inside of the market, I still needed to know more about how the market operates from the outside. What’s the larger framework? How do they enable the market to operate? Between the 3rd GRC and the 4th GRC, I did a lot of mapping works and conducted the 2nd phase of my field, which was for another 6 weeks. In this phase of field work, I needed to map the conditions or actors which allowed the market to operate. I interviewed the City Council and found that there is a specific framework and regulation that guides a night market operation; I then met the president of a vendor association for one of the night market and I discovered how the management part is conducted and what parties are involved; and the most interesting bit was when I was allowed to follow one night market vendor for 5 days, where he operates his business at 5 different market locations. The body of work continued to open up how we define localness now once I’ve experienced, understood and was able to document the various things that interplay each other in creating a night market. I also mapped the criteria of a night market location, and found that across 5 night markets, there are similar infrastructure that exist - becomes a pattern for siting future sites. I found that there’s currently 95 night market locations within Kuala Lumpur, which makes night market such an urban phenomena. And it went on to continue extracting all these dynamic ingredients at different scales: the scale of the city, the scale of the street, to the scale of operation and experience.
The title for semester 4 was kept very general and very open, because I didn’t have much thought on it, and just wanted the work to do the explaining. The panels commented that for such rich body of work I would need a more poetic title.
Now going back to the first paragraphy in this post, I started thinking about “ingredients” of a place to remind me of how the different elements play out with each other in creating a place - giving a modified definition (or my own, now) to what sense of place means. Then thinking about “ingredients” led me to thinking about recipe. And here goes, a potential title for Semester 5? “Recipes for the City: Accommodating and Mapping Localness through an Exploration of Night Markets”.
We went to Sunday Market in Camberwell again today. The weather was a bit cloudy, and it was pretty cold. We visit Camberwell Market often, at different seasons. Not so much for wanting to buy anything, but just to go and see what’s there, to walk around, to (no)window-shopping…
But there was something different today in the atmosphere. Instead of the regular buskers who usually play guitar, today there were 3 people playing the violin, two guys with keyboard and base, and a girl with an accordion. I wonder if the Rotary Club a.k.a. the organizer purposely choose or encourage the participants of buskers with different instruments. Because if they did, I think it’s brilliant. All of a sudden, with the gloomy cold weather, and the faint melodies from the violin at different area, it gave sort of a melancholic atmosphere. There were a lot of people in the crowds, no doubt, but there’s something different about the sound atmosphere this time. And when we walked to the part where the girl plays the accordion, all of a sudden it felt like ‘Paris’. I’ve never been to Paris, but it’s odd that I could associate the sounds and atmosphere with a place that I’ve never visited. I am very aware that it is probably because of what’s on TV, in the movies and online.
What I am realizing each time I visit this market is that how much ‘other elements’ play a role in creating the market atmosphere as a whole. Maybe for some people it’s just a barely noticeable part of any market, but I think this is a subtle ‘ingredient’ that can make a market experience richer, as these types of things, like music for one example, gets to our ‘senses’ without us really noticing it.
What if, for my market projects, apart from arranging spaces for vendors, spaces for buskers, or other activities that give out the sense of sounds, smell, or animation, be placed at specific points in the market? So that when people walk, some of these senses will trail behind them faintly… and then gone… and then sparked back by a different or similar sense. Could this be another ingredient to make a market experience more memorable?
I’ve recently started back reading literature on sense of place. I started with sense of place in mind during the early stages of my PhD. I knew there was something that I wanted to argue with how we define sense of place. I did some research on sense of place and placemaking in my master’s project thesis, and since then, have left this topic for quite a while. I embarked on my PhD design projects with my ‘gut’ feeling of what sense of place can mean: in which, in the context of urban design or designing places, it is more than physical symbolism, or ornaments, or specific ‘characters’ imposed onto the site by designers. I problematized Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur after it was being ‘beautified’ and upgraded into are more comfortable street market, with a large span polycarbonate roof that takes on wave effect to symbolize the Chinese dragon, and the pagoda gateway. I appreciate the improvement of the street market because it did make the market walkable in rain, but I felt there is more to localness than these simplified or generalized symbolism. Localness is much richer. The activities, how the spaces are physically arranged or appropriated, the spatial practices, the products, the people — all of that create what Chinatown is. I would think that Chinatown does not need that obvious image for people to identify themselves with it. But it may be otherwise.
So I didn’t go back to any of the sense of place literature, and I still remember how traditional scholars like Relph, Tuan, and Steel write about sense of place. I started doing different kinds of small projects to de-familiarize myself with a familiar place. It was as if to unravel or unfold the layers of localness that I would find. It was not easy, but it was worthwhile and it did shift my thinking about places. I’ll elaborate on the projects later.
Two weeks ago, after my fourth review, I was asked to read back the literature on sense of place and placemaking, and to state my position on this. A year ago, I found the writings by Doreen Massey. Massey writes that places are processes, they are multilayered, and they do not have single identities. I agree with Massey (at least for now), because her idea of place allow places to be more open, rather than enclosed and limited to one single identity. So I went back to read back on journals, and see how people write about sense of place, putting Massey’s idea on the side temporarily. I found a recent paper, dated either 2008 or 2009 (I’ve got to check back on this), that critiques on sense of place. The classic scholars like Relph and Tuan are still referred. Throughout the paper, the word ‘distinctiveness’ and ‘uniqueness’ were consistently used to refer about sense of place. The good thing though is that the paper still emphasized that what ‘sense’ mean is still open, and have no specific definition. In short, sense of place is still about a unique character of a place that makes them distinct from other places (that’s their view).
I kept on thinking, does distinctiveness mean ‘difference’? In most cases, it does. Particularly in designing a destination image for tourism, places have the tendency to be promoted as being ‘different’ from other places, and this difference is what makes them unique. But can’t places be the same and different at the same time? I doubt that any places inhabited by people are totally different from other places. Globalization and migration bridge places and the trajectories of events, people and products make places ‘share’ some characters. So must we deny of those shared characters and just emphasize on what makes the different? Massey discussed that by making places bounded by specific identity, it will be hard for us to engage with it. That’s why I still think that there are a lot of layers and factors that create a place. It’s how people engage with it, and what people make of it. So then, the big question is, what does a designer or planner do? And what about when it is a common thing that people will have more probability to search for something ‘different’ in a place as part of their experience? (the second question is not yet discussed here)
This then led me to think that sense of place itself is a process. It takes time and interaction for places to accumulate meaning. And if place is a process, and places change, wouldn’t that make sense of place shift and change too? I agree that it is the fact that we are human that we are nostalgic, and we use the past as memories for us to understand our present state, like knowing where we come from to really see where we are. But the problem with design is that, most of the times, there is the tendency to be very precious about what places look like ‘back then’. And from reading other papers on place attachment (the case of Little Saigon in California, although I may not share the same point of view with the author), the activities, the senses, the people, the spaces are some of the things that can help to keep or allowing this bit of nostalgia to progress with change. Places change, undoubtedly, and change in inevitable. It’s just that in design, the question is how do we become aware of these elements (the senses, activities, people, spaces, atmosphere) that “collectively” makes up the place is. When we acknowledge that sense of place is beyond how it looks physically, then maybe we can allow places to change progressively.
This is all for now. More thoughts to share later.