Munich's Viktalienmarkt (shown below) displays the great variety of interactions that we as humans love

Editor's note: It's well documented that conversations occur more naturally at public markets than at supermarkets. Our longtime colleague Steve Davies — who has consulted for markets all over the world — outlines the ways markets get people talking. Munich's Victuals Market serves as a base for the 4 foundations for social encounters.

Why do people talk to each other so often at markets? Markets are some of the most sociable of public spaces, and there is now an abundance of research that identifies the different types of socializing that have characterized marketplaces since ancient times.

1. Transactional Encounters: Shoppers Meet Merchants

At the heart of a market’s social experience is the connection between customer and vendor. Research shows that the transaction itself — the exchange of money for product — breaks down barriers between us. Even among people from vastly different cultural backgrounds, the act of buying and selling builds trust, mutual understanding, and even friendship.

2. Planned Social Experiences: Let's Go to the Market

People tend to shop at markets with friends and family in tow, because a trip to the market is not a chore but an experience to be shared. That’s one reason why gathering places — especially places for people to sit in groups — are a key element for a successful market.

3. Serendipitous Encounters: Market Meet-Ups

People seem particularly drawn to markets that attract a diverse set of visitors. The energy of a market offers plenty of reasons for strangers to strike up a conversation— becoming strangers no more — and allows us to "bump" into neighbors and friends.

4. Shared Community Place: Agora-philia

A market’s public spaces can become hubs of community life, hosting all kinds of social activities and special events that attract folks who otherwise wouldn't visit.

So, what might have looked like an unlikely place to sit (below) becomes a major amenity in the life of that part of a very large and important market.

Driving the Local Food Economy with Social Life: Munich’s Victuals Market
The Victuals Market (Viktualienmarkt) in Munich, Germany Central “Market Square” is typical of the historic squares around Europe, showcasing the local commerce, culture and diversity in the center of each city.
A Simple Bench — Victual Market, Munich, Germany
A creative approach to seating makes this one of the world’s great social places

More on Markets

Squares are the Hearts of Communities, Markets Their Soul: How Cities Put Them Together and Thrive
Exploring the powerful, mutually beneficial connection between market and square in cities around the world
London’s Borough Market: A Public Market Driven by and for Social Life
The Borough Market is woven into the neighborhood. Coming at it from multiple directions one finds themselves suddenly in the market. The intensity increases as you get into the many the hearts of the market.
A Great Market Street: Buenos Aires’ Calle La Defensa
Buenos Aires’ Calle La Defensa is a memorable street any day—but especially on Sundays, when crowds gather to walk, shop, dance, eat and have fun interacting with the street performers.
This Could Be the Main Street of the Future — Ithaca Farmers Market
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The mission of the Social Life Project is to incite a renaissance of community connection in public spaces around the globe. Through our online publication, presentations, campaigns, and catalytic projects, we can create transformative impact on communities everywhere. Our work grows out of more than 50 years devoted to building the global placemaking movement. It is an initiative of the Placemaking Fund, along with PlacemakingX — a global network of leaders who together accelerate placemaking as a way to create healthy, inclusive, and beloved communities. We gladly accept donations to advance our work.
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