Porta Palazzo and the Balon Flea Market in Turin, Italy
With over one thousand merchants and 700 street vendors, Porta Palazzo in Turin, Italy is a commercial hub whose opportunities have always attracted newcomers to the city. This regular influx of new cultural communities also makes the area an urban lab for cultural integration. In 2000, nearly 20 per cent of those living and working in the area were foreign born, compared to the city average of 4 per cent. Today, over 45 nationalities live in this densely populated inner-city neighborhood.
Unique to Porta Palazzo is the Balon flea market and its mix of registered, formal and informal vendors. Since 1935, irregular migrants have had the right to 'exchange' goods on the market by a special city statute. However, in 2001, that right was temporarily withdrawn, and the relative stability and security of the area rapidly declined and threatened the commercial vitality of the market and the whole neighbourhood. The City of Turin recognised that a multi-faceted approach was needed to successfully address the variety of factors threatening the social and commercial viability of the Porta Palazzo market.
Since 1998, the Porta Palazzo had been the focus of Turin's major economic development strategy, called 'The Gate'. Its overall message was to convince residents to stay in the neighborhood and invest in its future while investing in their own futures - hence the project's motto, 'Living, Not Leaving'. Initially financed by the European Union, the Porta Palazzo project identified the quality of urban space as an incentive to economic development, as well as the means to resolve high levels of local unemployment and crime. Unemployment in the neighborhood stood at 12.8 per cent, compared to about 6 per cent in the city as a whole, and barriers to formal entry into the labour force pushed many immigrants into illegal or informal work, often in the neighborhood's daily market. In 2002, the project evolved into a Local Development Agency project involving both public institutions and private partners, and broad community representation. Using a participatory community model, the project included the participation and empowerment of irregular or unlicensed merchants. This decision was the result of an assessment which showed that while tensions between the licensed and unlicensed vendors were at the root of many of the other social, security and space issues, this group of 300 vendors was a vital part of the local economy.
Through a deliberate process and the engagement of informal and formal leaders (including the Deputy Mayor on Economic Development and the Municipal Police), the Porta Palazzo 'Living Not Leaving' project succeeded in having irregular vendors recognised under the new legal category of 'non-professionals'. The vendors were given a dedicated space in the market. Formal legal status - and protection - led to an immediate decrease in the chaos and problems within the market as vendors assumed greater responsibility for their assigned areas.
This practice was kindly contributed by Hire Immigrants, a program of the Global Diversity Exchange, Ryerson University (Toronto, Canada). See more at: http://citiesofmigration.ca/good_idea/the-porta-palazzo-flea-market.