Our trip to Holland, Michigan was exciting and eye opening.  The city is like Ann Arbor in that the college and the downtown are very cooperative entities, both physically and relationally.  The main street of Holland is a pedestrian lined space, with parking spaces and small urban containers, places to stop, rest, and view the city.  It crowns just past mid point, permitting a view of the city if only it had not been blocked by a large aggregate pile brought to shore by barges.   There is life and activity here, part college town, part well conceived urban environment, that make it attractive to visitors and residents alike.

One of the most striking physical characteristics of the place is the tree lined streets that appear everywhere, often forming a tunnel like enclosure that people walk through and cars travel in.  The shade of the trees dapples the facades of the buildings, bringing to life their texture and adding another layer of interest.

Culturally, the city has become part of the growing trend of farmer’s markets across the country.  Not only is the farmer’s market intriguing because of its focus on healthier, more organic produce, but it also promotes a connection between people of the community.  It brings about the “chance” encounter we think of when we envy urban space.  The people come together over a very important thing for living – food – and they begin to share a common vision for their community.  Holland’s farmer’s market is overly scaled and impersonal, directly contrasting with the pleasant urban enclosure in the adjacent eastern block.   Big canopies are not required, but many small, varied canopies would be better.  Images of vibrant markets of Istanbul come to mind.  What if we were to think of this space as a market like these, where everything could be bought there?  All things start small and if people find them attractive, they will start to grow.  Holland’s new approach to their surface landscape could take this into account, providing a framework or intention on how the market could grow and develop over time.  The conceptualization of this could also take into account the growing interest in home gardens by individuals who do not necessarily visit the farmer’s market.

As we examine from prior experience, many small market squares, like a piazza in Trastevere, Rome, take on a multiplicity of uses throughout the day, turning from morning market to active recreation space for children.  Given the urban density of the adjacent blocks, this concept can be brought to fruition on this site, providing a place of recreation and enjoyment during the hours not functioning for a market.  If we think of the figure ground properties of popular markets piazzas or squares, they are almost always lined with residential properties, whose second, third, and fourth story – if not first – are primarily residential in nature.

The street has become a particularly interesting place for the farmer’s market in Holland, Michigan.  It temporarily closes itself, permitting the pedestrian life to take to the street, blurring our understanding of the types of activities that can occur on that surface.  Similar approaches can be taken to make the site active and dynamic, responding to the life of the city in a way that makes the individual site a more active participant.

One observation about the farmer’s market is the need for large vehicular access, particularly booths on wheels, and for vans, which store much of the produce in the back seat to be easy accessed when supplies run low.  An American version of farmer’s market should take this into account, understanding the relationship of the vehicle and its place in the transport of produce to market.

As an idea, the farmer’s market enables Americans to alter their conception about food, closer linking them to its less processed form.

 

 

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