How can planners help beget community connections among ethnic groups in a city? In "Why Latino Vendor Markets Matter" in the Journal of the American Planning Association (Vol. 87, No. 3), authors Edna Ledesma and Cecilia Giusti discuss the many values of Latino vendor markets (LVMs). Yet these markets are rarely studied in urban planning or addressed in practice.
Ledesma and Giusti examined large markets with 500 or more stalls in Texas and California, selecting Spring Valley Swap Meet (San Diego County), Seventy-Seven Flea Market (Cameron County), Roadium Open Air Market (Los Angeles County), and Sunny Flea Market (Harris County) for their analysis. LVMs are vast expanses of small stalls, which sometimes sell second-hand goods and other times new goods, wholesale, or food. LVMs are usually situated outside of city centers, due to their size, and they are rarely considered within the paradigm of urban planning, but Ledesma and Giusti argue that they should be.
Planners have identified the benefits of analogous types of markets like farmers markets, but gloss over LVMs, according to the paper's authors. Planners also view local markets from the pragmatic perspective of land use planning and zoning ordinances. Such a perspective in urban planning ignores the context of marginalized ethnic minorities, who rely on LVMs for affordable goods and services in addition to connecting with their own cultural values.
"As market interactions occur, people make connections in that physical space. We call these networks; they can be geographical or personal, with different levels of intensity. Social interactions have been shown to reinforce connections and a sense of place and to support rich urban life."
Figure 2. Place attachment model.
Through observations and interviews, the authors attempt to qualify the value of LVMs for Latino shoppers and vendors coming from the U.S. and Mexican sides of the border. The authors found that most vendors are low-income, and the markets provide an income opportunity which is secure, affordable, and sustainable. They also determined that LVMs foster a sense of belonging, strengthened by multigenerational visitors and exposure to familiar language and idioms.
It is critical that urban planners acknowledge and support the advancement of LVMs and similar spaces. The social networks and community which is engendered by these markets promote health by reducing loneliness and isolation and amplifying the sharing of resources and information. The authors also highlight ways in which further study of and attention paid to LVMs can make the markets even more accessible for shoppers. For example, 97 percent of customers surveyed traveled to markets in their personal vehicles, indicating that these markets may not be accessible for those who do not have access to a personal vehicle. When integrated into comprehensive planning practice, LVMs can be further improved to better serve the communities that could benefit most.
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Top Image: Latino market in New Mexico. Flickr/jpellgen (@1179_jp) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
About the author
Nina Rae Sayles is a joint Master in Urban Planning and Master of Public Health candidate at Harvard University.