After conducting our business review project with Market 707, we realized just how few affordable spaces existed for micro-enterprises in Toronto. In mapping out the overall system, we realized that there are very few systems and institutions in place for creating more of them. Additionally, with record high rental rates in Toronto, retail space was becoming a barrier for many new businesses to start up.
Marketplaces for micro-enterprises exist around the world. From street markets to night markets, many cities have spaces for micro-enterprises to start-up and flourish. These space are often vibrant and lively gathering spaces where the community comes together to shop, dine and converse. Many of these spaces and systems have evolved over time, although some like the Hawker Centres in Singapore and Hong Kong are intentionally created and supported by the government.
Historically, public marketplaces were the norm in Toronto. In the early days, every city ward would have one – remnants which can still be seen today in St. Lawrence Market and the old St. Patrick’s Market on Queen. As the city developed, small businesses operated out of people’s homes, and street vending developed very organically – Kensington Market is a great living example of this. In the modern era, many of these spaces disappeared to be replaced with formal street level shops and indoor shopping malls. The last great micro-enterprise markets were the flea markets and various temporary festivals and special event markets.
Lately, there has been a resurgence in interest for micro-enterprise. The buy local movement, combined with a large foodie craze and interest in creating more resilient community economies has driven a surge in farmers markets, food truck rallies and community markets happening in pockets around the city. Add to that a higher than usual unemployment rate that is driving more people towards entrepreneurship and we’re now witnessing a greater need for micro-enterprise business spaces.
Micro-enterprise markets are spaces that cater to the needs of micro-entrepreneurs. We define them as having 4 key characteristics:
- Allows for clustering of similar business types
- Provides affordable and flexible infrastructure
- Provides a supportive community
- Supports micro-enterprise incubation and innovation
The Enterprising Spaces Project is interested in creating more micro-enterprise markets in Toronto to meet this new need – wherever they can be built. From laneways to parks to re-use of empty storefronts, they can be permanent or temporary – the key is to be able to further help develop this nascent sector in the city and lower the barriers to entry for micro-entrepreneurs. Our social focus would be on helping marginalized communities such as youth, new immigrants and people with disabilities start or further grow their micro-enterprises.
Imagine a city filled with markets in every neighbourhood hosting a plethora of local enterprises catering to every need. We would have vibrant community spaces everywhere that would become the focus of their neighbourhoods. We believe that such a future is possible, and we aim to create this through the Enterprising Spaces Project.
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