I’m in Cleveland at the 8th International Public Markets conference organized by the amazing folks at Project for Public Spaces, and I’ve been surprised at the vitality and energy in the local food sector here; there are a lot of very passionate people working to build a local food economy. In addition, Cleveland was hiding a gem of a public market; the West Side Market. I’d heard of the market, but this was my first chance to meet it in person, and it is a wondrous neo-classical market building. Built exactly one hundred years ago this year, the market is everything that is great about the age when markets were pieces of civic infrastructure that were as important as bridges or highways. Until now Marche Atwater has been the grandest such market building that I have seen, but the West Side Market is at least an equal in terms of its presence.
I arrived in time to wander about the great hall a little, and was amazed at the beautiful details inside and outside of the market. Clearly a destination, the market is near to transit, and offers an extremely wide range of hand cut meats, amazing looking cakes, and a giant produce hall that had me wishing that I had a kitchen! There is a definite pride in the market; Cleveland isn’t a rich town, and in many places such grand buildings have fallen to the wrecking ball (the tragedy of Les Halles comes to mind), but the market is clearly loved. I wish that we still built beautiful infrastructure like this, and I hope that the blossoming of another great age of markets leads to more wonderful market halls being built. And before I am accused of being old fashioned and sentimental, I will remind critics that the great markets of Montreal earned the city between 8 and 12 percent return on investment, which these days sounds as good as the coconut lemon cake that I might have to try tomorrow.