Equity is a critical topic as interest and investment in cities across the country is leading to rising costs of living and threatening the diversity that contributes to their appeal and vitality.

Long-term property ownership that is vested in the community and clear vision and goals are critical to supporting preservation that remains authentic yet relevant with results that would not be economically possible otherwise.

Like other organizations interested in the built environment, the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence (RBA) is interested in finding ways to build equity by design through research, presentations, and partnering  on events like the 2014 Design for Equity Bruner Loeb Forum. Increasing understanding about the economic, environmental, and social impact of design of the built environment has been central to the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence over our 30-year history. The Bruner Foundation has been checking in with past RBA winners to gain insight and lessons learned from their experience and will share them through blog posts like this.

We started with Pike Place Market in Seattle, a public market and mixed-use complex supporting the local community, which received the inaugural RBA gold medal in 1987. While the landmark Market is well-known to locals and tourists, few are aware of its ambitious underlying social agenda. In addition to the public market, the nine-acre complex includes more than 500 units of rental housing, the majority of which are targeted to low- and moderate-income residents, as well as children’s day care, a community health clinic, and a neighborhood senior center.

John Turnbull Leads a tour of Pike Place Market
John Turnbull leads a tour of Pike Place Market. Photo courtesy of: Karen Kubey

I toured Pike Place Market earlier this year with John Turnbull, Director of Asset Management and Development, and followed up with him to find out how the Market has fared in the midst of rapidly growing and gentrifying Seattle. My takeaway: Long-term property ownership that is vested in the community and clear vision and goals are critical to supporting preservation that remains authentic yet relevant with results that would not be economically possible otherwise.

John Turnbull describes Pike Place Market as a historic community of small businesses and affordable housing centered on the site of a public farmer’s market that has operated continuously since 1907. Located between the central retail core and active waterfront, it has long been considered the “soul of Seattle.” Read on to learn more about the Market and excerpts from my exchange with John:

What was the impetus for Pike Place Market?

JT: The impetus for preservation came from citizen opposition to urban renewal plans in the late 1960s that would have “modernized” the Market and destroyed the surrounding low-income neighborhood.  A citizen initiative vote led to the establishment of the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority (PDA) to oversee future development and uses of space to ensure that the Market remained a place that welcomed all people, residents and visitors alike. That includes farmers that sell produce, small independent family businesses, housing for low- and moderate-income persons, and services to support that community. A separate, nonprofit Pike Place Market Foundation was established to provide funding and coordination of social services for the community.

Pike Place provides food access and nutrition programs.
The Pike Place Market Foundation sponsors an array of social services including food access and nutrition programs. Photo courtesy of Pike Place Market.

What were some of the challenges?

JT: Initial challenges included generating community support for a 40-year development plan, securing funding, managing incremental renovation and rehabilitation of the properties, and ensuring citizen oversight to ensure focus on original goals. The PDA acts as the developer and manages the renovations and operations. It also serves as a public steward and is responsible for generating all of its operating funds.


How has the community changed and the Market responded?

JT: Changes in demographics have made it important for the PDA to seek out new business operators.  The Market Foundation continues to develop fundraising strategies that appeal to a new generation, including millennials.

The Market has grown dramatically as a popular tourist destination and is often crowded with visitors. Meanwhile new high-rise residential and office buildings have been built around the Market and the density of the city core has increased.  We’ve introduced weekly “remote markets” to bring farm specialties to nearby downtown communities and office districts.  The Foundation has established a new fund to provide direct cash assistance to individuals with emergency needs.

As the central waterfront is used increasingly for recreation, the PDA is completing a large public plaza connecting the Market with the waterfront.  This will include a food hall with four new producer-based businesses, 40 units of very low-income senior housing, 300 parking spaces, and a community center. The Foundation has been instrumental in fundraising for this project.


The MarketFront expansion will include a new public plaza, food hall, community center, housing, and parking. Image courtesy of Pike Place Market.

Why has the Market succeeded over time?

JT: The Market is considered the most democratic place in Seattle, where active public participation and community oversight are valued as part of the culture. Management and operating decisions are guided by the impact on people, ahead of profit, and incorporate strong public private partnerships. The Market has become a model for a different type of economic development that emphasizes social and economic equity.  This, in turn, has led to increasing public support and funding for the improvement and expansion of facilities and social service programs.

What have you learned that might be applied to other places or cities?

JT: Creating a sustainable organization takes time and creativity. Lessons we’ve learned include:

  • Clear goals and vision are critical. It’s important to be aware of the end goal to measure progress.
  • It is essential to have long-term property ownership and management that is vested in the community.  This allows management to prioritize public benefits rather than just the bottom line and focus on long-term sustainability.
  • The most effective programs are those which are long-term and are able to evolve and adapt.
  • Open communications processes that facilitate community input and decision-making are very important, especially at the beginning during the learning curve, and lead to better decisions.
  • The best way to take advantage of opportunities is to create them with partners, especially through mutually beneficial public private partnerships. These range from large, complex ones that provide significant capital investments to smaller, one-on-one collaborations that enable new entrepreneurs to secure financing to get started.

The Market is considered the most democratic place in Seattle, where active public participation and community oversight are valued as part of the culture.

John Turnbull
Director of Asset Management and Development,
Pike Place Market

Given your experience, what steps can be taken to increase equity in our cities?

JT: The best places are those that engage us not only in three dimensional space, but also in society and time—past, present, and future. We can build more equitable communities by investing in public spaces that open doors to interaction, increasing opportunities for people to connect, engage in something, and create valuable social networks.

Additional Information about Pike Place Market

The following articles offer additional information about Pike Place Market and its programs that increase equity and support the community:

Other Public Market RBA Winners

There are many public markets among RBA winners that incorporate programming and uses that strengthen the surrounding community. They include:

You can find additional projects by sorting by “Food Systems” on the Awards Winners page on our website.

Stay tuned for more Building Equity by Design reports on past RBA winners.