Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The proposed Island Roots
Co-op Market at Beban Park



A public market might be the single best investment the City of Nanaimo could make right now. Public markets are key pieces of the community-building puzzle. Take a random group of people and compile a list of their favourite travel and vacation highlights. The list will include public markets and span the world: Mexico, France, Spain, San Francisco, Canadian markets like St. John New Brunswick's City Market and everybody's favourite: Vancouver's Granville Island Market.
There is currently a proposal in front of Council for a public market: the Island Roots Market Co-op. The co-op currently operates weekly farmers' markets and have done a great deal of work developing their plan. Few (too few) public markets are built today and it's essential for Nanaimo that this project succeeds. Nanaimo can't afford another failed market. Locals will recall the long, painful death of the one on Newcastle Channel near the Departure Bay ferry terminal.
Like any introductory plan, Island Roots' stresses the positive and the aspirational; the best case scenarios. Questions arise from its costs and revenues estimates (the to-be-secured mortgage and a very ambitious fund raising goal, for instance) but those aren't my concern here. My concern is the proposed location.
Markets need as many people as possible within a walkable catchment area and need to be interconnected to as many other uses as possible to mutual benefit. A market (especially a public market) needs to be accessible to as many, and as diverse, citizen groups as possible.

The proposed location is in a large park that also houses an ice rink, swimming pool, the summer Vancouver Island Exhibition and other recreational uses. As is evident in the illustration the area is bounded on 3 sides by busy 4-lane arterials, the Island Highway, the Northfield connector and Bowen Road. The neighbourhood is primarily car dealerships, light industrial, self-storage sheds etc. What residential there is, is very low density. An imperfect measure, the Walk Score gives the area a 60, almost all tasks require a car. The neighbourhood, unfortunately, can expect to be even less walkable as visitors to the market arriving, by necessity, by private car, will add to the traffic volumes. There is virtually no transit connectivity here. The RDN Transit's Trip Planner shows that it could take someone from the south end who can't get to the market by car an hour to get even within a 20 minute walk. A public market shouldn't further disadvantage low-income folks.
The markets I mentioned in my first paragraph all share critically important connectivity and interconnectedness for mutual benefit. They are neighbourhood gathering places and benefit from the foot traffic generated by nearby shops and offices and in turn benefit those enterprises with the foot traffic the market generates. There are no adjoining shops or offices at this site. It's a serious drawback that, along with the poor access and low population catchment area, diminishes the chances of this market succeeding.
If my concerns are as valid as I think they are, they'll surface again when lease agreements are negotiated with the anchor commercial vendors. Enterprises like the butcher, specialty cheese shop, fish store know how important the immediate catchment area is and how important the clustering with other businesses for mutual benefit. If they share these concerns, they won't see viable business opportunity here. Their involvement is central and key to the success of the market.
In my view this is another expression of the 1970's shopping mall development model that Nanaimo still clings to.  The only area of Nanaimo that has both the necessary compact, diverse commercial and residential pockets and is accessible to everyone is downtown.
The Island Roots proposal scores well on many of the Project for Public Spaces' Ten Qualities of Successful Public Markets but poorly on location and connections. Nanaimo needs this project to succeed. If it struggles due to the concerns I've expressed, or any other reason which could be addressed now, it could be a very long time before we get another chance to establish a public market.

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