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Creating Community, One Market at a Time

Inscribed above the entrance to St. George’s Market in Belfast, Ireland, are the words: Pro Tanto Quid Retribuamus, Latin for What shall we give in return for so much?”

As I wander through the market’s eclectic stalls and shops, I feast on local delicacies, debate whether to buy watercolor postcards of the Northern Irish coast, and ruminate on the role of local markets in the community. How does Belfast, a city historically riddled with violence and sectarian strife, benefit from such a lively and inclusive public space? How can markets give back to communities?

St. George’s Market opened in 1896 and has offered its visitors food and crafts almost continuously ever since, taking a small hiatus during World War II to become a makeshift mortuary. In addition to serving the food needs of the Belfast community, the market operates as a music venue, a space for charitable events, and a place for exhibitions and installations. It was recently voted one of the best markets in the United Kingdom, glorified for its vivacity, color, versatility, and ability to foster community. It’s a meeting place for the diverse inhabitants of the city to meet and shop as equals.

While situated in the Catholic section of Belfast, St. George’s attracts Protestants and Catholics alike along with legions of ethnic minorities. Despite the ebb and flow of tensions in the city's streets, the market has been a safe haven for the public to gather, showcasing how communal desires can overcome divergent beliefs.

Local markets are slightly chaotic places, bustling with busy shoppers and boisterous vendors. But beyond the crates bursting with apples and cases containing fresh cuts of veal, markets serve a vital community role. They connect urban and rural economies, keep money in local neighborhoods, provide access to organic and sustainable food, promote public health, rejuvenate downtowns, and give cities a place for all ethnicities and socioeconomic groups to gather.

When St. George’s Market needed an economic boost in the early 1990s, the community rallied and raised 3 million pounds for refurbishments. In a city as historically divided as Belfast, St. George’s offers hope for peace and unity. In the current worldwide economic recession, a market’s role in reviving depreciated and derelict communities has never been more imperative.

Markets serve a variety of functions. But as author D.H. Lawrence wrote in his essay Mornings in Mexico, a market’s chief function must be as a “Babel and a hubbub,” a place “to buy and to sell but above all to commingle.”

As I finally decide to splurge on an Irish-inspired watercolor print, I look around the frenzied activity of St. George’s. I’m far from home but feel an undeniable sense of place.

 

In this video, see why St. George's Market attracts visitors from across Belfast, young and old alike:

Other Interesting Market-related Links:

Remarkable U.S. market anniversaries

Examples of how markets turn communities around

Lonely Planet’s list of best international markets

Amy Curtis is a student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and an intern at the Center for a New American Dream. She is currently studying abroad at the National University of Ireland at Galway.

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Comments

It is so important to know where our food comes from. I also happen to think that agriculture is incredibly interesting and would really like to get to know the people who grow what I eat.

Posted by Grant at March 27, 2012 at 9:06pm

This market seems incredible! I’ve tried to buy more local products and although it is difficult in my home town, I know there are many local markets in my college town. Also, I’ve been to a market very similar to this when visiting a relative in Pennsylvania. There are so many different types of people and items to buy but I felt the same “sense of place” while aimlessly wandering such a structured, chaotic place. I sincerely hope, as Jenn said above me, that markets are the future because it’ll make the future such a better place.

Posted by Taylor N at March 27, 2012 at 9:53am

We need more markets like this everywhere. Markets like this are good for the community in so many ways!

Posted by Erin at March 26, 2012 at 10:05pm

This is so great! I wish my town had markets like this, I really think it’d improve our sense of community!

Posted by Krystiana Prescott at March 26, 2012 at 9:30pm

It is definately a good thing that this market exists. Communities that are closer tend to work better because you know who youre surrounding yourself with. Its inspiring that they can all come together and express themselves in this environment. In addition to bringing people closer it also supports the economy by providing local shopping.

Posted by Hannah at March 26, 2012 at 8:13pm

This market looks great! We have a farmer’s market in my home town, but I think it is sadly underused. Many people (like my family) appreciate the local, more sustainable option when buying food, but I think there are also a lot of people who don’t know there is anything beyond the chain supermarket, or that something beyond the large corporations is even necessary. I think bringing more communities together at markets would solve a lot of other problems (such as too much individualism) of modern society.

Posted by Kelsey at March 25, 2012 at 6:47pm

This is very inspiring, I think more communities should work to achieve a market like this. It brings people together, and it provides for the community. Local markets like this are great for the environment and great for keeping communities more sustainable. It is something that more communities need to have.

Posted by Allie at March 25, 2012 at 12:02pm

I wish there was a market like St. George’s where I live. To be able to give people a “sense of place” is great and gives people of all backgrounds a place to mingle and feel comfortable. I agree that it is important to have a place that connects urban and rural communities in a world like ours.

Posted by Jessica at March 21, 2012 at 10:59pm

I think it is good that markets are able to form this sense of community for different socioeconomic groups. Nowadays, as the world is changing, places such as St. George’s are hard to find where people can congregate and not feel out of place.

Posted by Eddie at March 21, 2012 at 10:54pm

We are very proud of our farmers markets in Amherst, Massachusetts. for a few short videos see:
http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL6481B31CBFE0D936&feature=mh_lolz

Posted by John Gerber at March 14, 2012 at 6:42pm

Markets are the future.

Posted by Jen Steinfeld at February 28, 2012 at 6:27pm

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