A little girl walks in long strides trying to keep up with her mother’s quick pace. Weaving through the bustling crowd, her mother knows just where to go, and th e little girl trudges along for the promise of a new toy. 

The smell of freshly roasted peanuts competes over the foul-smelling dried fish. Some vendors shout at the top of their lungs the names of the goods they have to offer, while some engage in heated bargains with their customers. The riot of colors in the space from the colored tarpaulin sheets, the fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers awaken the sense of sight and catch the eye of passers-by. 

Years later, looking back on this memory of weekly adventures to the local Indian market, one cannot be helped but to be filled with nostalgia. It is undeniable that these local markets have an inherent character, that extends beyond a mere commercial space, to a vibrant social conduit, with multiple dimensions.  

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Dadar Flower Market, Mumbai. ©shutterbugged.blogspot.com

Markets have been an important center for trade, commerce, and communication, since ancient times, be it India’s spice trade, or China’s Silk Route. They form an important part of the public realm and are pockets bursting with life, energy, and color. An open market refers to a public open area, where market stalls are traditionally set out for trading. 

Markets: A Celebration of Diversity

Markets are a hub of produce, often fresh from the farmers’ harvest, and some facilitate direct interaction between the farmers and the customers. People tend to gravitate towards local markets, no matter where they are located, out on the open road, or tucked away beneath a water tank. 

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Johari Bazaar in Jaipur. ©Pedro Gordo/ Flickr

These are centers of activity and have multiple genres of trade happening at once- from food to retail to general groceries and essentials. It is an informal atmosphere where vendors sit on platforms or plastic chairs, with their goods displayed hither thither in front of them. 

At the break of dawn, colorful, fragrant flowers flood the market, and within an hour or so, the spaces occupied by flower vendors are inextricably woven with those of vegetable vendors. Come festival time, markets become a vivacious melange of firecrackers, lanterns, diyas, kites, and fabrics.  

Markets: A Sense of Place

Markets can be permanent or temporary, and can even be covered with permanent infrastructure. The markets include farmers’ markets, fish markets, flea markets, and flower markets. Paumier (2004), identifies a market to be a gravity point as a vibrant center. They are accessible to all, conveniently located, sell a vast variety of goods, and have a sense of place, a cultural identity attached to them. 

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One of the Oldest Spice Markets in the World – Khari Baoli, New Delhi.  ©thebetterindia.com

The energy-fueled atmosphere of a market blurs the lines between the public and private zones and engages the users in diverse visual stories. No two markets are alike, in patterns, people, or goods. Yet, they are similar in the randomness of spatial clusters and the riot of colors, sounds, and smellsthat awaken precious memories in you. 

Markets: A Vibrant Painting

Vibrancy is a measure of positive activity or energy, which makes an urban space unique and enjoyable to its residents in spite of the challenges of urban living. As Montgomery (1998) emphasizes, it is the public realm that provides the terrain for social interaction, be it the market square, the street vendor, the shop frontage, or the sidewalk café.

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The Vibrancy of Indian Markets. ©Karan Patil/Flickr

In accordance with this, one of the major goals of urban designers today is to enhance the vitality of cities and provide the residents with a social space, accessible to all and which acts as a buffer from the hectic city life.  

A 2011 study by the Urban Land Institute Triangle suggests that people choose spaces that have the following factors-walkability, mixed-use, compactness, human-scaled design, transit-oriented development, parking, and social factors; all of which are present in traditional Indian markets. 

Hence in terms of vibrancy in public realms, the local markets in India are top competitors. They are a place of social interaction, a place where senses are awakened, and a place where entire neighborhoods come together to sustain their needs. Markets are vibrant pockets that add a sense of dynamism to any place. They are constantly changing, yet never fail to embrace the concept of a vibrant and diverse urban realm. 

Markets: The Disappearing Heritage 

The rich and vibrant culture of Indian markets has been a subject depicted in many artworks. But, here too one finds a stark contrast. In most renditions, we find a beautiful story with bustling people and vibrant colors. In some, such as the painting by Thomas Tegg, Asian markets are depicted as turbaned monsters, wreaking havoc on otherwise organized places. While supermarkets and other chain stores may have certain advantages, they lack the appeal and vivacity of an open market. 

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The Genius of Bazaar Arrived in London by Thomas Tegg ©The Trustees of the British Museum
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Painting of a Vibrant Market. ©Asher Topel.

Unfortunately, with the changing urban scenario and general lifestyle, if given a choice, between traditional stores and high-end groceries and retail shops, people often prefer the latter, on account of cleanliness, offers, and general ambiance. 

Even though studies have shown that traditional stores rank better in terms of location, accessibility, and the opportunity to bargain, they currently are at serious risk of extinction if the factors of hygiene and organization are not addressed and are not expressed in the long run. What the markets lack in terms of physical conveniences, they excel in, in terms of vivacity, location, and sense of place. 

It is therefore essential to preserve the markets and bring out its better qualities, instead of wishing them away, as a part of the ‘City Beautiful’ campaign. As a part of the Smart City Project, the biggest markets of major cities, such as the K.R. Market in Bangalore is being revamped to suit current needs. It is therefore essential that in doing so, the existing vibrancy and experience of the markets is not lost, and it does not get converted into another run-of-the-mill hypermarket. 

Open markets are a chaos of sounds, smells, colors, vehicles, and people. The energy and freedom of the market are ever-lasting and leave a lasting impression on those who visit it. Markets have a simultaneous complexity and commonality embedded in them. They are a vital part of the Indian urban culture, and their essence and vivacity need to be preserved. 

References

  1. Busyness At Dadar Flower Market. [image] Available at: <http://shutterbugged.blogspot.com/2012/04/busyness-at-dadar-flower-market.html> [Accessed 13 April 2021].
  2. [image] Available at: <https://www.thebetterindia.com/12299/traditional-ancient-markets-india-shopping-clothes-spices-jewelry/> [Accessed 13 April 2021].

Gordo, P., 2021. [image] Available at: <https://www.flickr.com/search/?text=johari%20bazaar> [Accessed 13 April 2020].

Montgomery, J., 1998. Making a city: Urbanity, vitality, and urban design. Journal of Urban Design, 3(1), pp.93-116.

Patil, K., 2016. [image] Available at: <https://www.flickr.com/photos/karanpatil/> [Accessed 13 April 2021].

Paumier, C., 2004. Creating A Vibrant City Center: Urban Design and Regenerative Principles. Michigan: Urban Land Institute.

Tegg, T., n.d. [image] Available at: <https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/image/76077001> [Accessed 13 April 2021].

Topel, A., 2011. [image] Available at: <https://fineartamerica.com/featured/pisac-indian-market-asher-topel.html> [Accessed 13 April 2021].

ULI Triangle. 2011. The Value of Vibrant Centres to Towns and Cities in the Greater Research Triangle Region. [online] Available at: <https://triangle.uli.org/about/history/> [Accessed 13 April 2021].

Deeksha Kamath
Author

Deeksha Kamath is a fresh graduate from Manipal School of Architecture and Planning, India, with a penchant for writing. She believes that words, when strung together beautifully, can evoke the greatest emotions in readers. With this precept, she aspires to proliferate her love for architecture, through her writing.

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