Toward Market Cities: Lessons on Supporting Public Market Systems From Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Toronto

This report includes background on the Market Cities Initiative and the outcome of its research efforts to analyse and strengthen public market systems, before providing a framework for places looking to develop their own Market City process.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

The Market Cities Initiative, formed in late 2019, is an initiative of Project for Public Spaces created to expand understanding of the impact that public markets bring to the communities they serve and to promote supportive policies and investment in market infrastructure and management capacity to achieve that impact.

A key goal of the Market Cities Initiative is to identify the best practices that define existing successful Market City strategies. After evaluating a range of innovative practices emerging from a diverse range of locations, the Market Cities partners have identified the following seven guiding principles as being key to the delivery of a successful Market City strategy.

Seven Key Principles for a Market City

  1. It includes a wide variety of types of markets in a city as part of one market system.
  2. It organises a diverse coalition of partners and stakeholders who can collaborate and take action together to achieve common policy objectives.
  3. It measures the value of their markets and understands how they function.
  4. It has distribution networks that prioritise and support healthy, affordable, and safe food and other goods produced in the region
  5. It regularly invests in its market facilities and the management skills of market operators.
  6. It helps diverse types of vendors start and grow their businesses.
  7. It recognises that its markets are also public spaces that welcome different kinds of people and maintain important cultural heritage.

Shortly after the impact of coronavirus started to be felt across the world, the Market Cities Initiative undertook a research effort to kickstart citywide market strategies in three North American cities—Seattle, Washington, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the United States, and Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Taking into account the findings and recommendations from all three pilot cities, the Market Cities Initiative recommend that cities prioritise the following strategic actions in order to begin working towards the full set of Market City principles outlined above:


Appoint an individual or group (council, body) to represent and advocate for markets at the highest levels of government in the city or region.

In order to integrate public markets into existing policies in the city/region and develop new policy to recognise markets as essential services, a designated group or person must be able to represent the interests of public markets at the city and/or regional scales in an official capacity on an ongoing basis.


Increase investment in market management capacity and infrastructure.

The pilot project research revealed how important it is for markets to have access to infrastructure, either permanent or semi-permanent, to make markets viable and resilient, increase their economic and social impacts and participate meaningfully in providing food access on a city or regional scale.


Recognise markets as a key tool for creating equity in our cities/regions.

Public markets can provide opportunities for upward mobility to vendors because the costs of starting a business in a market are lower compared to other types of business ventures. This reduced barrier to entry is especially important for BAME communities and women entrepreneurs. Public markets can also serve as important hubs for recovery.