If you've ever been to the Italian Market right before Christmas, you've probably felt like you were in another world. Or if you're a sci-fi geek like me, it undoubtedly conjured up images from Bladerunner.
If you've never seen the movie, it's not for everyone. It's an intellectual mystery set in a dystopic future Los Angeles that questions the ethics of artificial intelligence...or something. Thirty years later I still haven't quite figured it out.
Several of the scenes take place in a sprawling quasi-outdoor market tucked in the crevasses deep inside the canyons of Los Angeles' towering skyscrapers. Vendors haggle, the homeless steal, and dark corridors lead to insidious dens of drug use and prostitution. Try to imagine Chinatown in three hundred years.
For us, we have our own bustling marketplaces on 9th Street and below Reading Terminal. But New York is prepping to offer something a little more...dicey, although a complete illusion.
Anthony Bourdain, one of television's endless supply of foul mouthed chefs, wants to provide a new market on Manhattan's Pier 57, and he's drawing on inspiration from Bladerunner. Quoted as saying his market "is meant to be chaotic because that's what hawker centers should be," in a sense he'll be resurrecting some of Manhattan's lost grit.
But will it work? Philadephia's public markets were born from a need and survive on posterity. Consumers endure the chaos because the markets are steeped in nostalgia, history, and tradition. Even in the fictional market in Bladerunner, we're led to believe that it organically evolved into what it had become. To outsource a public market to theme restaurant logic seems counterintuitive. But the fact that Manhattan has become the world's biggest Extreme Makeover: City Edition, is exactly why it will "work" there.
However its authenticity will hinge on its operation and execution. Reading Terminal Market came to be because goods could be shipped to the terminal above, similar to Pike Place's proximity to Seattle's waterfront ports. The 9th Street Market originally served as the hub of commerce for the city's Italian immigrant population.
If Bourdain's market intends to interact with the river and host local vendors, it could succeed at being a true market. But if it is just another collection of boutiques and pricey wine and cheese pairings, it will merely be a food court with a twist.
For us, we're lucky. I know it's bold to say we're more fortunate than New York, but in some ways we truly are. We have two thriving markets that continue to evolve, a legitimate Chinatown that continues to grow, and successful Night Markets returning for the summer. None are a scene from Bladerunner, nor should they be. Creating chaos for the sake of a chaotic experience makes no sense.
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