Short: One man has been trying to hold an outdoor market for six years—against the Bloomberg administration’s development policy. Robert LaValva and volunteers stage a renegade market every month on land that’s waiting to be turned into condos.
The story: Robert LaValva used to work for the City of New York, but lately, he’s found himself on the opposite side of the city. In 2005, after the Fulton Fish Market—which had been located in Lower Manhattan since the 1800s—was moved to the Bronx, LaValva approached the city about holding a market in the empty building. He was rebuffed. The Economic Development Corporation, which managed the site, had promised it to a developer.
Luckily for LaValva, the financial crisis slowed development plans, and the market was able to “squat” for some time in the parking lot in front of the development site. Unlike greenmarkets, New Amsterdam is a market for producers: bakers, picklers, coffee roasters and cooks who are committed to using locally sourced ingredients. Despite the high rents New Amsterdam pays to the city, and the market’s precarious location underneath a highway, the market has flourished over seven years, collecting a following of residents who want the historic market, and public access to the waterfront, preserved.
With a new administration coming in, LaValva and his band of volunteers are hoping to create enough noise for the market to stay. “Anytime city property has a change in use, there is a public process for that change to take place,” he says.
Markets like this really tug at your heart when you visit them. Even if you don't care at all about food or cooking, when you visit a real, established, vibrant public market in a city you come away with a sense of having seen the soul of that city. And I think New York could very much use a place like that.
Despite the fact that the Fulton Fish Market site has been essentially promised as a development site, it's not a legal promise, because that can only happen through this public process.
Since 2007, we have been holding a market so it's not just an idea, it's an actual thing that exists. And now with an incoming new government we have the opportunity to show what we have done and what we've created.
This will be like nothing else in the world, and it will be ours to have in New York City. Under the Brooklyn Bridge.
But you don't see me in the mornings when I wake up sometimes. Or coming out of a meeting when you just get the same news over and over. And this kind of condescending pat on the back, like, "Oh yes, that a very lovely idea, but you know, face reality." Well this is reality.
So much time and effort and blood and sweat and tears have gone into that neighborhood. To see it now being essentially handed over to a very banal, very unimaginative, very formulaic suburban development company is a shameful thing. And we ought to be protesting it.
If you know that what you're pursuing is founded on something that's true, and you end up being a rabble-rouser and you end up being a thorn in the city's side and it's not a pleasant experience to go through. But at the same time you carry with you the knowledge that it's something very meaningful, what you're doing, and it has helped sustain me from time to time.
Behind the scenes:
LaValva was inspired to create a New York City market when he spent a few days in London working in a historic cheese shop called Neal’s Yard Dairy, “which has done a tremendous job in preserving traditional British farmhouse cheeses from extinction,” he says. Who would have thought something like cheese could be in danger of extinction?
Neal’s is near a historic market in London that has been there for several hundred years. These types of downtown markets used to be commonplace in many cities but have been slowly cleaned out and moved to the outskirts as towns modernize: Paris’ Les Halles and the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo are two examples.
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