Why Market Cities Demand Better Data

January 21, 2022
Kristie Daniel

Kristie Daniel is director of HealthBridge’s Livable Cities program, working with local groups in low and middle-income countries to improve the livability of cities. She will be a core facilitator and speaker at our upcoming How to Create Successful Markets live online training.

MEASUREMENT: A Market City measures the value of its markets and analyzes how well they are functioning within a system.

7 Principles for Becoming a Market City

"It is really ridiculous," the famed urbanist Jane Jacobs once said, "We literally know more about the processes that go on in the sun than we do about the processes that go on in our cities."

While we certainly know more about what makes our cities tick today, our market systems are still a prime illustration of Jacobs's point. Most cities barely know how many public markets they contain, let alone where and how they operate, or what policies help and hinder them—there’s a dearth of data. 

But, when a city is armed with this information, it can look for ways to better support and improve the market system, thereby providing broader benefits to the community, especially those typically underserved. A true Market City develops tools that identify the locations and performance of the full diversity of markets throughout the region, maps supply chains, and determines the needs and wants of customers and vendors. 

A daily scene in the Grand Marché, the largest market in Niamey, Niger. Credit: Kristie Daniel

In 2020, the Market Cities program worked with leading market organizations in Toronto, Seattle, and Pittsburgh to audit each city’s existing market system, identify challenges and opportunities, and convene a broad group of stakeholders to advocate for new policy and governance structures. In this article, the second in a series exploring our seven Market Cities principles in detail, we’ll discuss examples of groups in Tanzania and Vietnam who have measured their market systems to illustrate how more robust data can create a foundation for action, no matter where you are.

Measuring Markets in Arusha, Tanzania

 Between 2018 and 2019, HealthBridge and their local partner, Urban Planning for Community Change (UPC) conducted a study of local public markets in Arusha, Tanzania, in order to better understand the markets’ location and performance and the policies that protect (or destroy) them. The study used both quantitative and qualitative methods and included on-site surveys with customers and vendors, a policy review, and key informant interviews with vendors, customers, and market managers.

The study’s findings demonstrated a spatial inequality in the distribution of formal markets in the city. Of the 25 wards, only 10 had formally or informally established marketplaces. Surveys of residents found that 64% spend 20 minutes or more to reach the nearest market despite the fact that 55% of residents visit the market closest to their house. During COVID, this spatial inequality was particularly problematic, as people were being asked to stay close to home—an impossibility when you have to travel so far to access food.

A map of Arusha highlights all the market types as well as walk buffers, green spaces, and water. Credit: Urban Planning for Community Change (UPC) 

The assessment identified several challenges and opportunities. There was a clear need to improve the physical conditions of the markets, particularly those without built-up structures. For example, vendors and users expressed a desire for permanently built stalls, and vendors were interested in contributing to their stalls’ improvement, demonstrating their commitment to customer experience. The walkways and facilities within the markets were not friendly to people with disabilities, especially those using wheelchairs or other mobility equipment. 

A zebra crossing in Arusha, Tanzania. Credit: Dr. Furaha Abwe, Executive Director, Urban Planning for Community Change (UPC), Arusha, Tanzania

Transportation to and from the market also emerged as an important issue. The survey showed that 42% of participants typically arrive by foot, yet the quality of the pedestrian environment surrounding the markets was poor. Likewise, despite 46% of survey-takers arriving by public transit, the bus stops and the linkages between bus stops and markets needed improvement. Finally, while there were strong policies in place to support markets in Arusha, a review revealed that these policies were weakly enforced.

As a result of the study, UPC has begun working with the City of Arusha to make changes in and around the markets. To address the spatial inequality, UPC has begun connecting with the Genge, informal vendors in stalls or kiosks clustered near busy streets or bus stations. The goal is to examine the potential to increase the variety of products they offer, in order to serve those areas lacking a market. In addition, they have undertaken a pilot project to improve pedestrian connections around one of the main markets, Kilombero Market. Initial results suggest that customers are very appreciative of the changes made, and now UPC is advocating for similar changes to other markets in the city.

People shopping and selling goods at a street market in Kampala, Uganda. Credit: Boney Sensasi, Project Officer, Advocates for Public Space, Kampala, Uganda

Similar studies were conducted in Kampala, Uganda, and in Niamey, Niger. Although the tools and resources were essentially the same, with only minor changes made to reflect local realities, the results varied across all three cities. For example, Kampala had a wider variety of markets and therefore less spatial inequality than either Niamey or Arusha, while Niamey had a weaker policy environment than Arusha and Kampala. The results of the three studies demonstrate the need to measure market systems in each city to address the opportunities and challenges they each face.

Saving Vietnam’s Markets

Traditional markets are very important to Hanoi. For hundreds of years, Hanoi was known as Ke Cho, or “market place,” to reflect the important role that market activities play in the city; some people still use that historic name. In 2011, the People’s Committee of Hanoi approved a plan to redevelop existing traditional markets into modern shopping centers combined with residential properties. In addition, small markets would gradually be replaced by supermarkets, grocery stores, and convenience stores. In total, 200 small and informal markets closed from 2010 to 2013, ten larger traditional markets were demolished from 2005 to 2013, and five new commercial centers opened.

As a result, HealthBridge’s Vietnam office began a campaign to save the markets. The first step in this effort was for the team to understand how the closure of the markets was impacting the local community and identify the ways in which local markets are important in Hanoi. From 2009 to 2011, the team reviewed government policies about markets and worked with an urban planning student to map the existing and planned market environments, which illustrated the ongoing impact of the market plan approved in 2011. 

A vendor at Chợ Bưởi flower and plant market in Hanoi, Vietnam. Credit: Dinh Dang Hai

In addition, the local team conducted interviews with customers and vendors in two of the markets that had already been redeveloped into shopping centers in order to fully understand the impact of the closures. The example of Hang Da market illustrates that the redeveloped markets were failing to provide income opportunities for the poor and decreased the availability of fresh, healthy, and affordable food. A middle-aged woman selling vegetables at Hang Da market said:

The market is very deserted. No one wants to go up and down the stairs. The goods sold here now even have lower prices than at temporary markets near here, but still no one wants to come down here to buy ... I lost a lot of customers since the new market was built. (Interview, Hanoi, 15 February 2011)

The consensus from the research was clear: Participants said they would prefer the city authorities to keep the existing markets and support improvements in infrastructure to make them cleaner, rather than rebuild them into commercial centers. The significant attention generated by the campaign directly resulted in the government’s decision to stop replacing markets with commercial centers because of the important role that markets play in the shopping habits of residents, especially low-income residents.

People at the Chợ Văn Chương Street Market in Hanoi, Vietnam. Credit: Dinh Dang Hai

The HealthBridge Vietnam team estimates that approximately 2,700 vendors’ livelihoods were saved, which had a ripple effect throughout the supply chain in terms of the farmers (many of them women) who supply the produce sold, and the families of the farmers and vendors who benefit from ongoing employment. We estimate that approximately 279,000 people who shop at these markets are able to continue to access healthy fresh food close to home at affordable prices. Since the campaign, the HealthBridge Vietnam team has undertaken efforts to better protect and preserve the markets through policy. In 2018, the team began working with Steve Davies, founder of Place Solutions and co-founder of Project for Public Spaces, to develop a new vision for Hanoi’s markets. This involved organizing a design workshop with over 20 young architects to redesign the local markets. The designs were presented to a group of policymakers resulting in the Ministry of Trade’s decision to develop a new national policy for markets.

Three Ways to Start Measuring Your Market System

While you may not be ready to dive into a project as robust as the ones above, the Market Cities Program offers a few easy ways to start your measurement journey!

1. Join Our Upcoming Training.

Go in-depth and learn how to measure your market or market system in our upcoming How to Create Successful Markets training in March 2022. Guest speakers include Dr. Furaha Abwe, Executive Director of Urban Planning for Community Change (UPC) in Arusha, and Thi Kieu Thanh Ha Tran, Project Manager in HealthBridge’s Hanoi office, who led some of the measurement efforts highlighted in this article.

2. Watch a Free Webinar.

In this free hour-and-a-half video, you’ll be introduced to our methods and tools for surveying and mapping an area’s public market system. Market leaders from Seattle and Kampala discuss the process of collecting and analyzing data on their market systems and how it has helped them hone in on their local Market City strategies and advocacy efforts.

3. Explore Our Free Tools.

You could also take a look at our two free guides to measurement. One on surveying with KoBoToolbox, a free and open-source suite of tools for collecting field data in challenging environments. And, another on using QGIS to map survey results from KoBoToolbox.

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