The Guardian journalist John Baron has produced a film, ‘The City Talking: John Baron on Kirkgate Market’ which features Leeds Voices team member and coordinator of the campaign group, Friends of Leeds’ Kirkgate Market (https://kirkgatemarket.wordpress.com). Sara is interested in the social value of markets, and the ways in which urban gentrification processes threaten or re-shape sociality and social differentiation in public spaces (e.g. Gonzalez and Waley, 2012). Opening with images and commentary on the great fire that devastated two thirds of the market in 1975, the film moves into a discussion of the value of the market for an increasingly socially, culturally and ethnically diverse local population. Canvassing the views of traders, shoppers and representatives from the Leeds Civic Trust and Leeds City Council, John invites the viewer to consider issues around the current status of the market as a unique, relatively unmediated public space that generates and reproduces social, as well as economic value. In the context of the spatial and structural changes to the market as a result of Leeds City Council’s £13.5 million regeneration programme, the film raises questions around the future of the market in relation to a policy and development programme undergirded by an ethos of regeneration and modernisation – is this signposting gentrification of the market, and if so, what are the implications for all heterogeneous communities in Leeds? As John has observed in a previous article for The Guardian: ‘As Leeds flourishes as a haven for high-end shoppers, the city’s historic Kirkgate market remains one of the oldest and most important retail developments for people of all backgrounds’ (Baron, 2013). Responding to John’s questions, Sara highlights the social value of the market, contending that it is an ‘important public space for people to meet from different ethnic and social backgrounds’. Crucially, the market is a key public space for the integration and accommodation of new and established migrants to the city; a factor that contributes to the exceptional linguistic and cultural diversity of the market, and its eclectic, cosmopolitan offer and ambience. Historically, traditional urban markets have functioned as a public service, offering low-priced, good quality food, clothing and household goods that support the lifestyles and wellbeing of people on low-incomes (Schmiechen and Carls, 1999). In this sense, the market is a valuable asset for the city; a dimension that is corroborated by Kirkgate Market traders in our own research investigations and by the market traders and shoppers interviewed for the film.
Baron, J. (2013) ‘Leeds’ Market at a Crossroads’, The Guardian, 3 April. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/the-northerner/2013/apr/03/leeds-kirkgate-market-at-a-crossroads. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
Friends of Leeds’ Kirkgate Market (nd): Available at: https://kirkgatemarket.wordpress.com. Retrieved 15 June 2016.
Gonzalez, S. and Waley, P. ‘Traditional Retail Markets: The New Gentrification Frontier?, Antipode, 45(4): 779-1046.
Schmiechen, J. and Carls, K. (1999) The British Market Hall: A Social and Architectural History. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.