Professor Leigh Sparks on Rome's historic and innovative approaches to market spaces. This article first appeared on his blog Stirlingretail on 26th March.
Let’s get the rugby out of the way first. It’s all Scotland’s fault; these days it always is. Another wooden spoon and apparently such a poor performance that the true champions, Wales, despite a magnificent demonstration of world-class rugby against the might of Italy (well, they did beat Scotland), were robbed of their destiny to be 6N champions again.
Being in Rome, in March, for the Wales/Italy game is not so much a delight as a pilgrimage, and so it proved this time.
You have to fill your time in Rome between the rugby and just wandering the city takes up quite a lot of that. This time though I made it out to the Rome Eataly, opened in 2012, and again sampled the food/culture link that Italians do so well. The Eataly store is on four levels of the old air terminal at the Ostiense railway station. Connected to public transport and with a fabulous re-use of space (as with the Eataly in Turin), the store with its focus on Italian produce and food, cooking and eating (23 ‘restaurants’ and a cooking school) and exhibition and conference space is another triumph. As I have written before, I simply don’t comprehend why we can’t have our own Scottish version, given our rich and diverse food and drink produce and (re)emerging food culture.
Eataly is a modern incarnation of the ancient retail market form. The oldest still trading market in Rome is at Campo de Fiori and it also reinforces the close link between producers, food and people, although increasingly with a tourist overlay. If you can get over the tourist parts of the market then at its heart is still a functioning local, daily market for people living and working in Rome. Surrounding the marketplace are also fabulous small shops focusing on particular food lines of trade and delivering visual, physical and sensory delights. The quality of product and display in the market (and the shops) is a standard for others to emulate.
The use of space for markets is but one of the joys of Rome. Rome is, like many other Italian towns and cities, blessed with great public spaces. But it is the life and animation that is brought to them that is so different to our public spaces (The soon to be replaced steps at the top of Buchanan Street anyone?). Yes, the weather is better, the architecture and lighting is enhancing and uplifting (but we have assets and could do more here), but it is the life in spaces that makes them work.
Not everything in Rome is wonderful of course, even through the rose-tinted view of a 61-20 victory (oh, what Scotland would give to score even 20). On the down side, if I had been offered another selfie-stick by a street seller, then I might just have bought one and animated it precisely where I’d like to stick it. There is a fine line between street selling and harassment.
But on the other side, these very same street sellers demonstrated a remarkably responsive distribution network. Switching from selfie sticks to umbrellas at the slightest hint of rain, and then to sunglasses as the sun broke through, they showed a speed of product and patter transformation that hinted at the sophistication of the supply network and the density of support in place.
Ancient and modern, Rome remains a delight, especially when Wales win. Now if only Scotland could play rugby.
Leigh Sparks is a Professor of Retail Studies at the University of Stirling and a member of the CSPP board. This article first appeared on his blog Stirlingretail.