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Lima's Central Market: Noisy Chaos or Colorful Streetscape?

Where is it possible to find a genuine milliner, a hat-maker capable of producing a newsboy cap, a straw fedora, a bowler hat, and a felt cloche hat? In the same place where thousands of people in Lima, Peru, visit every day to get household necessities, silver balloons, food, crocheted doilies, clothes, folk medicine, and maneki-nekos, plastic Japanese fortune cats with paws that swing up and down: the Central Market, located in the district of Barrios Altos. Every day of the week, the market and the surrounding streets are full of vendors hawking their wares from their stalls, located both inside the market, on the sidewalk, and even in the street itself. Crowds gather in the area to shop, browse, explore, gawk, get their shoes shined, and sometimes just to sit on a nearby bench to read the newspaper.

Central Market, Lima, Peru

At first glance, Lima's Central Market appears to be a hub of intense economic activity and social vitality, a democratic public space where strangers congregate and interact. Even though many of the vendors have officially sanctioned stalls within the market building, and many of the street sellers wear official-looking vests issued by the Municipality of Lima, it is also true that sidewalks and even streets are often crowded with pedestrians, cars, carts, and merchandise.

Street sellers at the Central Market, Lima, Peru

It is also hard to overlook that many of the beautiful historical buildings that surround the area, some of which house stores, are in a serious state of disrepair. Lima's vitality and activity often come at the expense of safety, control, and orderliness. These markets, the formal and informal economy, and the lively and noisy street life that surrounds them, tend to stand on a delicate and precarious balance that can easily tip into chaos.

Authors like Jane Jacobs and Richard Sennett describe a city that is open, flexible, vibrant, and capable of adapting to change, as an open system. A city that is dynamic is one that grows and changes over time, and that emits spontaneity, innovation and experimentation. However, a city like this also has to emit conflict, disruption, quirks and even some disorder. In Lima's Central Market, this openness and flexibility have produced a busy and diverse economic landscape, lively street life, and the adaptation of historic buildings to new uses. However, crime is still an issue; historic buildings are often not properly maintained and are used in ways that accelerate their decay; and every so often, a fire or accident highlights the fragility of this system.

Street sellers, Central Market, Lima

What are the options for reaching a healthy balance? How can urban planning encourage spontaneity, innovation and democratic uses of public space, while increasing safety and public order?

Credits: Images by Rosabella Alvarez- Calderon. Data linked to sources