The city that eats: how the metropolis and food retail affect each other

No major city in the world can be imagined without a well-developed food industry. In many countries, gastromarkets are proliferating, street food outlets are taking over the top spot from trendy restaurants, and photos from modern markets are garnering millions of likes and comments on social media. The symbiosis of the megacity as a human habitat and food as a vital need also yields unique benefits in terms of urban development. A new food spots can re-launch an entire neighborhood, and an improved public space can attract retailers to a place where they would never set up a shop. Let's find out how hot dogs and landscaping are connected, and whether food can claim to be one of the main tools of urban development.

From soil to the city

Food, as an integral and important part of human life, not only provides us with the calories and nutrients we need for a fulfilling existence, but also largely determines how we live our lives. Historically, people have settled where they can support themselves: first they hunted and gathered, then they farmed and invested in the land and cultivated crops.

Man's relationship with the land, and by extension with food, was greatly influenced by industrialisation. It led to a great exodus of people from the villages to the cities, and gradually from producing their own products, most working people switched to consuming ready-made.

Profitable combo

"Improvements work for the benefit of the catering industry in terms of the time a visitor spends there, increasing the volume of traffic. Conversely, when a citizen comes to a beautiful, landscaped place, the longer he spends there, the more he needs the opportunity to satisfy basic human needs: to have a snack, a drink, to buy something for a child. Convenient space and food outlets should coexist to make the environment as comfortable as possible for visitors," says Alisa Shmeleva, director general of architectural bureau ab2.0.

In her experience, the early planning of catering outlets when renovating public space allows it to be equipped with useful infrastructure elements. For example, provide an area for a cafe summer terrace, allocate additional space for benches and street tables, or even just draw cushions scattered on the grass.

Places for people

There are quite a lot of "food" projects that have successfully reloaded once low-traffic areas in Moscow. Among the large-scale ones are the opening of gastromarket Depot in the former industrial complex on Lesnaya Street, also renovated as part of the city improvement programme, reconstruction of Danilovsky market.

Another unique phenomenon was the transformation of Nikolskaya Street from a busy and narrow road into a full-fledged pedestrian space, where catering outlets for all tastes and budgets opened very quickly, making the street a sleepy epicentre of festivities.

The comprehensive restoration of the Northern River Station and its park area deserves a special mention, of course. In addition to the reopening of the historic Volga-Volga restaurant in the main building, several food outlets were opened  in the renovated park and embankments: from full family cafes to small pavilions with takeaway coffee and pastries.

Food retailers always come to places like the 'reloaded' North River Station actively and with interest. It is in such urban locations that the two main principles for café, restaurant and retail pavilion owners converge: a good location and a large flow of human traffic.

"When a centre of attraction is created in a city, like the North River Station, retailers are interested not because it is simply beautiful, but because people will go there because of that beauty. When city dwellers are out walking, they want to have a coffee and a snack, which is why, for example, there is so much food retail in the centre of Moscow, and all, even the smallest spaces are occupied by street food and coffee shops. Tenants like to enter the parks because there is a steady flow of strollers: someone came for a date, someone to walk with friends, to ride a bike, and each of these people sooner or later will want to grab something," says Anton Belykh, General Director of consulting company DNA Realty.

At the same time, the expert notes, retailers, coming to the improved urban area, should analyze its format and contingent of visitors beforehand.

"To the same "Depo" most tenants go - from "low-cost" to elite restaurants, because the audience there is diverse, from businessmen to students from Samara, and everyone will find something to their liking. In city parks, the street-food concept will do better because people can eat there either on benches or on the go," Belykh explains.

All in all, food in modern megacities really can be a powerful tool for transforming public spaces. Conversely, smart urban development aimed at popularising pedestrian zones and creating spaces for people will motivate businesses to open food outlets in once unpopular, but ennobled places, where citizens go for a new experience.