How to create successful public markets

OK, so this the official reason I came to New York. I am a graduate student studying history and culture with an emphasis on urban planning and how public markets create and define community. Marketplaces have been neighborhood centers in cities all over the world


She Wolf Bakery at Fort Greene Park Greenmarket

since time began. In the city of Cincinnati, around the time of the Civil War, there were nine markets in operation. As the city grew, incline railways were installed to provide an easy way to navigate the hills surrounding the outskirts of town. With this new form of transportation, people migrated out of the inner-city to live in the “suburbs” of the time. As the population became less dense and methods of transportation became easier to navigate, there was less need for so many markets. Most residents didn’t have the need of a market place to be within walking distance of home. Refrigeration became more dependable, so food could be stored at home rather than purchased fresh every day. Luckily, my beloved Findlay Market in Over the Rhine made it through the lean years and has remained in continuous operation since it opened in 1852.

HerbsWEB The Project for Public Spaces is a non-profit organization which opened in 1975 to help people who want to create more livable cities. Every summer and fall they host a conference and invite anyone to attend who is interested in preserving, growing, or building a successful market. The conference in June had attendees from California, Oregon, Texas, North Carolina, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Washington, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Mexico, Portugal, Canada, Australia, Ecuador, and Bermuda. It was an amazing two days of learning and conversation with people who have the same goal: to create and maintain a successful public market that will provide jobs, healthy food, and a community anchor in their cities. My goal was a bit different in that I was collecting information to build

Radishes WEB

Fort Greene Park Greenmarket

a base of evidence for my thesis research.

The opportunity to visit seven iconic New York City markets and speak “market-ese” for two days was a dream come true. From the first few moments together everyone was talking, sharing stories, offering advice, asking questions, showing pictures, comparing demographics…all in all just the friendliest bunch of people ever. Then again, these are market people, when have you ever met a grump at a public market?  The plus for me was that I learned so much about the structure of a successful market, how to create a good mix of vendors and how to manage the

Hester Street People WEB

Hester Street Fair

vendors and encourage them to have an attractive, selling stall. We talked about how to create welcoming public space and how to control quality growth. So many new concepts to ponder and so many confirmations that my thesis proposal is solid. My mind was in overload mode for days after the conference concluded.

Next up…pictures and mini-critiques of Market Saturday.

Don’t make eye contact: Adventures on the subway

Grand Central SignWEB   My new friends who helped me with my first New York subway ride gave me a bit of advice: never make eye contact on the subway, if I do the person will either be a whack-o or ask for money. So, on the rest of trips on the 6 train and F train, I had a mighty fascination with my shoes or the advertisements overhead. I never felt unsafe or even uneasy. Mostly, people were just trying to get somewhere on time. Mornings and evenings the trains were packed and I panicked a bit that I might not be able to get to the door, but I always did. I preferred the F line because the cars all had interactive maps that very clearly said the next stop. I never got lost on that line. The number 6, though, was an entirely different story.

The first day I wondered around Grand Central Station a while until I finally found the escalator to the downtown trains. I knew I could take either the 4 or the 6 to the stop I needed at Lafayette Street. They both stop on the same platform but what I didn’t know was that the express trains were on the left and the local trains on the right. Yes, that’s what I did, got on the 4 line express. Luckily for me, I realized what I had done and when the train made a stop I jumped off. There was a number 6 across the platform so I was able hop on without waiting. Fine. It’s all good. I’ll get to the conference on time. No problem.  Big problem…after a few stops I saw a sign out the window that said Lafayette Street with an arrow pointing up some stairs. Gah!!! I needed Lafayette Street!!! Next stop: out the door, up the steps, across the walkway, down the steps, back on the uptown train, get off at the next stop. Thank goodness, back to Lafayette, up the steps, on the street but it doesn’t look at all like the pictures of 419 Lafayette on Google Maps. No problem. The street sign says Lafayette. It can’t be far I’ll walk. Two miles later, in the rain, I get to the Project for Public Spaces. I look across the street and there it is, the station I should have ridden to.

So the day goes on, I stop sweating, my shoes and hair are finally dry and after the wine and cheese reception I cross Lafayette to the subway station. I figured out the problem. My directions said I needed to ride to Lafayette Street but the station is called Astor Place. Great. Got it. Astor Place tomorrow. Down the stairs, on the uptown train back to Grand Central Station. Just behind me a guy gets on and starts to give the car a sermon, in a heavy Irish accent, about how we should love each other and the Lord with all our hearts. He asked us to be kind to one another and pray for peace then recited the Lord’s Prayer and promptly jumped off as the doors opened at the next stop.  He must have practiced because I have never seen anything so well timed. I glanced around at the other passengers and there was kind of a communal shrug as if to say, “Thanks?”

I kept waiting to hear the conductor announce Grand Central Station and realized along about 77th Street that I had somehow missed my stop. So, one more time, up the steps and down the street but wait…I had turned away from the subway line and walked two blocks in the wrong direction. Turn around back to where I started, cross the street in the correct direction, down the steps on the downtown train, got a spot close to the overhead map. I looked more closely at the names of the stops and realized the stop isn’t Grand Central Station, it’s 42nd Street. OK. Got it. The stop closest to my hotel, even though it cruises straight into Grand Central, is called 42nd Street.

The next morning I’m up and out early, confident I now know all the names of the stops I need and get to the Astor Place station way early.KmartWEB This downtown stop has an entrance to the biggest K-Mart I’ve ever seen so I went in to buy a Coke Zero and got lost trying to find the door to the street. I walked around the ground floor then went up some escalators to the second floor. I went through men’s department, children’s department, and housewares before I found a check out and asked how to get out of the store. Back down a second set of escalators, and finally the front door. I’m becoming an expert at getting lost.

The most interesting passengers must only travel in the afternoon. On the Saturday trip back uptown the car was very crowded. There were two guys, one sitting up and the other lying down across 4 seats with his head in his friends lap and his eyes closed. They both were fairly dirty, I don’t know if they were homeless but certain they were either drunk or high. The conversation went like this:

Sitting Guy: You know you have to transfer in a couple of stops.

Lying Guy: I want to go with you.

SG: But you have to transfer.

LG: I don’t want to leave you.

SG: You know I’ll take care of you, I love you.

LG: I know. We’re friends. I don’t want to transfer.

SG: OK, we’ll go together. I’ll take care of you, you’re my friend.

LG: I love you.

SG: Don’t go getting all gay on me.

I got off at 42nd Street, so will never know exactly how far they travelled or if they left together or if it all erupted in a major spat and they went their separate ways. I think about them a lot, though, and I suppose that’s what being a student of culture is all about. I don’t know who they are, their back story, or how they managed to get hung up on their drug of choice. I realize I, or anyone for that matter, could have been them. I happened to have made different choices that have led me to a wonderful place. I’m not better than them, not luckier, not smarter… just different.

There were so many stories from the subway: the teenagers who kept pulling each other’s Subway CarWEBhair; the sleeping people; the guy who was seat-dancing to the music from his phone; the angry man who cursed and shouted out that we were all nothing but subway bums; the lady who managed all those steps in high heels; the business man in a suit on a Saturday. I love to watch faces and stole as many glances as I could without being noticed. So many stories from the kinship of the subway.



Things I learned my first day in New York

Building NYC 2

I thought this one was pretty. Across from Union Square Park.

I got here, safe and sound, and much to my own surprise I picked up my luggage, walked out through the sliding glass doors of the airport, boarded the Super Shuttle and did not die. This is the first time I’ve ever landed in a city and didn’t have someone drive up in a car to rescue me from whatever danger was waiting to smack me in the face. I’ve always had this anxiety about walking out of an airport by myself and my friends know this and accept that weird little bit of my personality. Therefore, I’ve always triple double checked everyone’s travel plans, making sure I was either on someone else’s flight or the last one to arrive, so someone else would have a rental car and come get me. I know it’s a ridiculous thing to be afraid of but that yawning maw of the great beyond on the other side of the glass door is scary. So this trip, completely on my own, was a very big deal. Someone even called it bold. Indeed.

Cornell Club web

This is the only signage for The Cornell Club of New York…just the number 6. It felt like they’re trying to keep it  a secret.


I am beyond tired right now, so I decided to just post a list of the things I learned my first day:

  1. It’s going to take 2 hours for a shared van to get from LaGuardia to Mid-town Manhattan and there’s nothing I can do to make the traffic move any faster.
  2. When the van driver drops me off on Madison Avenue, a block and a half from my hotel and tells me it’s just around the corner, I should grab the handle of my suitcase like a boss and fake it until I make it. Always smile at the doorman when I finally find it.
  3. In Manhattan, nobody drives in the marked lanes; they go where they please and even run a red light to get in front of a tour bus.
  4. I will never drive in Manhattan.
  5. It’s a long way to walk from 44th and Madison to Delancey and Orchard but worth every step and there’s a Cuban restaurant on 23rd with really good croquettes.
  6. I shouldn’t have worn the dress with the full skirt because it’s windy here and also, there’s the subway grates.
  7. The Lower East Side is full of the most interesting people.
  8. I love the Tenement Museum and all the tour guides are fabulous.
  9. New Yorkers are very friendly, helpful to lost visitors, and love to chat about their city.
  10. I walked 14,000 steps and am very glad I wore my Keen’s. They aren’t the most fashion forward of cute shoes but my feet don’t hurt at all and that makes me happy.

Tenement Museum Sign web

Nighty, night. It’s an early morning tomorrow.

What’s up with that name?

Naming a blog is almost as important as naming children. A name sets expectations and gives the reader an idea of what kinds of things they’ll find if they click on the link. I spend way too much time trying to think of clever names for things but I think the names I have chosen are appropriate. I drive a 1999 lime green Beetle whose name is Prudence. She has daisy lights in the back and sunflowers in the vase on the dash. When I bought her the Beatles song Dear Prudence kept playing in my head, so there you go. I have a tattoo of a naked fairy on my back and her name is Francesca. What do you think of when you hear that name? Exactly. My fairy is curvy, buxom, and  has dark hair. The name fits.

When my daughter announced she was expecting my first grandchild, I immediately began to worry what he or she would name me. I’m definitely NOT a Granny or a Grandma. My mother-in-law is Grammie, so that was out. My mother had been Nina, so certainly not that. I knew the child would pick a name for me and no matter how hard I tried, I would have little influence on what that might be. Jacob was born in 2012 and I anxiously awaited his first words. Sometime around his 2nd birthday the lad christened me Gigi and I was quite pleased. Gigi sounds like someone who is adventurous and exciting and terribly chic. Since I  have a habit of wearing sunglasses with sparkles and fabulous hats I think Gigi is a fitting name for me.

So, the first half is explained…Gigi is me. We have to go way back for the a-Gogo part.

Mary Rose Mannix Dorsel was my husband’s maternal grandmother. She was married to William August Dorsel. Most of the time she called him Bill but he was also known as Gus when she was angry. One of my favorite Rosie-isms came out of a loud discussion between the two…”You want to fight? I can fight!!!” I adored them both and some of the best weekends of my early married life were spent visiting them in Highland Heights, Kentucky. Mary Rose was the Grand Matriarch of the large Dorsel clan and nothing got past her, ever. Once, at a Memorial Day family weekend, she woke me from a sound sleep to ask if I wouldn’t be happier if I stopped dating her grandson. Her reasoning was that if I stopped distracting him, he’d stop cutting classes at college and actually pass a couple rather than fail them all. She made me cry and I was afraid of her for a while, but when I got to know her better I saw that she was a strong woman. She had lived through a lot of painful things and came out The Mama. She and her three daughters were (and still are) role models for me and taught me how to be strong and how to be The Mama of my own Dorsel sub-clan.

Ah, long way around to the point of the story. In the late 1960’s when Mary Rose became an empty nester she decided she wanted to travel and Bill, being Bill, didn’t always want to go with her. She joined a group by the name of Travel-a-Go-Go Club. Can you see it in your mind? Mary Rose in plaid Bermuda shorts and Jackie O. sunglasses de-boarding the plane in Bogota, Columbia? One hand on the rail, the other holding a martini with a round over-night case hanging from the bend of the martini hand elbow. I know she visited Bogota, the rest is my imagination, but with a name like Travel-a-Go-Go Club the image fits. She traveled all over the world, sometimes with Bill, sometimes with friends, but the point of it is at a time when middle-aged women were thought to be done with life, Mary Rose was seeing the world.

Mary Rose Mannix Dorsel - The original Gigi-a-Gogo

Mary Rose Mannix Dorsel – The original Gigi-a-Gogo

That’s what I want to do. Put my middle-aged self on a plane heading anywhere armed with my laptop to record the adventure and some protein bars for sustenance. Gigi is ready to go-go. Follow along and see my next stop…Gigi-a-Gogo is preparing for another trip the first week of June. Find out where next post.

Join me friends…


My beautiful family


Way back in the old Diaryland days I had a personal diary and posted about once a week with stories about my life, my family, and the general mayhem surrounding the doings of raising four teenaged daughters. It was a decent hobby. I met some wonderful people and we still get together once or twice a year to practice nonsense. They changed my life in an amazing way and I will be eternally grateful for their friendship. I grew weary of the posting, and as my job became more complicated and demanding, decided the diary had to go. So, here I am nearly 15 years later, back at it with a new blog.

This time, I’m writing publicly to give evidence of learning for my graduate applications classes. I’m working toward a Master of Arts in History and Culture with a specialization in Urban Planning. I’m studying inner city gentrification issues and how public markets can help communities form an identity honoring both long-term residents and new incomers. In my first two semesters, I’ve built a foundation for my study by reading and writing about the history and cause of community transformation, how some residents have constructed a system of resilience to fight drastic change, and studying the many different types of gentrification and how they impact the populations trying to remain in their homes. Over the next 7 months I will dive deeper into urban planning issues by exploring subtopics surrounding gentrification. My plan is to visit public markets and interview market administration, vendors, shoppers, and neighborhood residents about the history of their market, their memories of the market as a center for social activity, and their vision of the future for the market and the neighborhood.

This blog will be a record of my adventures…I’m glad you’re joining me, welcome!