By: Niamh Moore-Cherry, School of Geography, University College Dublin

Today traditional markets are under significant threat from displacement in many cities as urban renewal in support of economic development becomes prioritised. Balancing the needs of the local population with wider metropolitan or city-wide objectives is often a very difficult thing to achieve. In the context of the closure this week of the Victorian Dublin Fruit & Veg markets, it is timely to reflect on the kinds of economic (market) forces exerting pressure on the traditional markets in Dublin.

Figure 1: Moore Street market 1976. Credit: David Davison.

For many decades, the future of Dublin’s markets has been a concern of planners, local politicians and street traders culminating in a new Markets Framework Plan (initially proposed in 2002) by Dublin City Council in 2005. Ambitious though they were, the plans remained unrealised in part because of the economic downturn and subsequent recession. In 2013, partly inspired by participation in a European URBACT project, new plans for the regeneration of the almost 126-year-old Victorian fruit and vegetable market at St. Mary’s Lane were drafted, but with little activity – due in part to legal issues – until recent months. Dublin City Council are currently in the process of launching a tender to “design, build and operate” the market, indicating that the council will play no part in its future operations. What this will mean for the wider markets community in Dublin is not clear, as suggestions have been made that the successful tenderer will not necessarily be required to operate the wholesale function. The Victorian markets could become a retail-only space, which in other cities has translated into gentrified spaces of middle-class consumption rather than places of more broad-based urban social infrastructure. Remaining wholesale traders believe they will not be accommodated in any new development and that it will become a ‘destination’ market for tourist and leisure activities.

Figure 2: Victorian Fruit and Veg Market, Dublin. Credit: CC BY-SA 2.0

While there is an obvious impact on the wholesale traders that were occupying the traditional Fruit and Veg market, what this will mean for traders in other parts of the city, who already find their attempts at livelihood-building under pressure, is unclear. Markets are far more than simply places for commodity exchange, but promote socio-economic inclusivity. During the 1980s when male unemployment was at very high levels, the Moore Street market became an important source of flexible, female employment and food provisioning for inner-city families. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, recently arrived migrant began trading adjacent to the street market mixing with traditional market families, and bringing new life to the market that had been in significant decline following decades of disinvestment. Over the past thirty years, this market has been under significant pressure from redevelopment agendas in the surrounding districts. Despite the central place of Moore Street in the minds of Dubliners and its historic reputation as ‘the heart of Dublin’,  the survival of any form of street trading in the area is more a marker of the resilience of the traders in the face of significant disinvestment and challenge than it is of any supportive public policy. Over the last decade, the historic place and voice of traders has been further diminished as attention shifted – almost exclusively – to focus on narratives of ‘national history’ and the role of Moore Street during the last days of the 1916 rebellion as discussed here in a full paper by myself and Christine Bonnin.

However there are some positive indications that the market and its traders may be about to  experience some revitalisation and support, through new urban development plans for the district commissioned by Hammerson and Allianz, owners of the neighbouring buildings and sites. The British-based developers commissioned German Architect Friedrich Ludewig to design a new urban quarter from O’Connell Street through to Parnell Street. The outline plans launched in May 2019 indicate an intention to retain old street patterns, reduce the scale of development proposed by earlier development consortia and support the unique character of the Moore Street markets. Critically, they state the desire of the developers to work with stall holders to “respect and enhance street market trading”. What this means in practice for the future of the market is not entirely clear, but it is the first time that the importance of the traders voice in the future development of the area has been publicly acknowledged.

There is a certain irony in the emerging picture of a private developer saving the place of, and supporting, traditional street traders on Moore Street, while the local authority removes wholesale trading activity from the Victorian Fruit Markets. The role and responsibility of public authorities and other actors is becoming increasingly blurred, as our cities change rapidly and are shaped by local, national and international contexts and funding.  How market forces interact with public policy, planning, and broad-based publics in the contemporary city is something worthy of much further study!

For more on research currently underway on this and similar topics at UCD School of Geography, please see here.

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