When the Politecnico of Torino analysed the traditional markets of Torino (IT) in 2014, it discovered that 10 of the city’s 42 open markets were low economic performers and risked being closed. But the City of Torino, in charge of markets management, saw that even non-competitive markets were valuable for promoting social aggregation and healthy and eco-friendly habits, preventing degradation in outer neighbourhoods, and providing local services to the elderly and people with low mobility.
So to help them stay open, the Municipality designed a new model for local markets. ACC – Areas of Commercial Coverage – define small markets (two to six stalls) that feature food (meat, fish, or vegetables) and involve a lighter management system (self-waste management). In this way, the City reduced its maintenance costs for these markets, and secured a local service for the community, boosting commercial activities and social cohesion.
The solution offered by the ACC is beneficial for the local community and for the administration since it reduces the management costs for a service without removing it. The City of Torino has acknowledged the low performance of a number of markets, as well as their being essential for the local communities. Since the main task of the administration is not economic profit, but the provision of services with particular attention to the most disadvantaged citizens, the solution adopted by Torino aimed at reaching a number of beneficial goals:
1) Avoiding the risk of unemployment for stall operators, mostly immigrants, by giving them the possibility to remain in the ACC or to move to another market;
2) Keeping the public space alive and used by local citizens, including both the marketplace and neighbouring green spaces, leisure areas, etc.;
3) Keeping outer districts active from a commercial and social point of view (both markets and local shops, cafés, etc);
4) Granting the daily provision of fresh food in all city areas by having a widespread market network;
5) Giving the responsibility to each stall to dispose of its own waste, meaning less cleaning costs for the municipality;
6) Avoiding trips to distant commercial places, thus reducing traffic and CO2 emissions;
7) Improving the commercial attractiveness of the ACCs by rationalising the former stalls distribution;
8) Avoiding depriving the elderly and low mobility people from their gathering place.
The ACC experience combines many aspects connected to the sustainable and integrated urban development approach, since it deals with jobs protection, sustainability measures and the smart use of the public space, giving positive externalities to the surrounding urban tissue.
The low performance of a number of markets in Torino represented a risk to all the small companies working in those markets, as well as to the commercial activities/retailers based in the concerned areas. The decision to reshape the markets according to actual customer requests and to give them a lighter management structure was the solution to avoid job loss and urban and social degradation.
An important reason to create an ACC instead of closing up a market was the environmental impact that would have been generated by forcing people to move from their neighbourhood to do their basic daily shopping. The compulsory presence within each ACC of vegetables and other foods represents the provision of a basic service for people with fewer possibilities. Moreover, this measure is particularly attentive to raising the environmental and public responsibility of the stall operators so that they are required to dispose of their own waste by bringing it to a specific collection point.
The whole process has been developed according to Art. 47 of City Council Regulation no. 305 of 21 February 2005 regulating retail in public areas. The concerned article sets up the “Forms of representations for the market operators” by establishing Market Committees and a Technical Advisory Committee. The latter is formed by the Deputy Mayor in charge of Commerce, a representative of the local police, the head of the Markets Department of the City of Torino, the representatives of the trade associations and the representatives of the consumer associations.
Paragraph 4 of Art. 47 states that the Technical Advisory Committee must be summoned to take decisions concerning retail in public areas. That is why the decision not to close down low performing markets, but to establish ACCs instead, has been taken with the involvement and agreement of all the relevant stakeholders represented in the committee. The involvement of all relevant associations is also established in the Protocol of Intent signed on 20 January 2015 between the City of Torino and the main associations.
Moreover, the process was also shared with the concerned city district local governments (Circoscrizioni). In each city district a public meeting was organised to present the project and each assembly voted to approve the initiative. Finally, each stall operator has been given the choice to join the ACC or to move to the nearest market area.
The main reason for undertaking such an initiative is the preservation of the role of community markets as places of identity and social gathering. This initiative has prevented negative effects from the suppression of a local service which might have caused the degradation of the public space previously devoted to markets, the generation of more trips to reach other commercial areas, the decline of the shops and commercial activities located in the market area.
Moreover, the stall operators have been granted the possibility to keep their own regular customers, since fidelity is one of the main drivers of the seller-customer relationship. Finally, the users of the concerned markets/ACCs have perceived the role of the public administration as the “keeper” of the common good, regardless of the economic priorities. The first result that can be documented concerns the savings by the city administration connected to the waste management costs of the ACCs, calculated at more than €100,000 for 2016, and €340,000 per year when at full power.
The good practice implemented by the City of Torino might be very interesting for many types of cities. Mediterranean cities are particularly concerned by the phenomenon of open-air urban markets and might face the same challenges as Torino in terms of commercial competition and loss of purchasing power of a remarkable portion of citizens. They might be interested in developing the model of ACCs by adapting it to their local and national regulations, public spaces, commercial and social habits.
Moreover, ACCs can be implemented in cities of various sizes since they are very locally based, and are not affected by the overall dimension of the city. City administrations might consider ACCs as a good instrument to reinforce their relationship and dialogue with those citizens living in peripheral and/or more disadvantages areas, by committing to a project that unites the administration and its citizens around the challenges of common issues: employment, affordability and proximity of services, environmental protection.