Food Moves

Using automated street vendors kiosks to strike a harmonious balance in Hangzhou

By Beiyi Ma

In the UK, people greet each other by talking about the weather while in China the greeting is more likely to be ‘Have you eaten?’ The food market is central to everyday life in China and people go there every day, if not more frequently.

Markets are constantly adapting to the social and political reality of their time. In 1956, when markets were owned by the government, people went to designated spaces to shop. Then economic policy opened management rights to the public. At the same time, urbanization sped up with an influx of workers migrating from China’s rural areas to its cities. They sold food and groceries as street vendors to quickly make a living and gradually formed the most popular food markets at that time because of their locations near residential buildings and the convenience they brought to citizens. But this period of rapid urbanization also resulted in chaotic situations in Chinese cities. The subsequent Civilized City Campaign set detailed urban regulations for a clean and healthy living environment. New cities follow these regulations easily, but older markets have a hard time adapting and some cities simply  prohibit street vendors altogether or gather them in designated spaces. This solves problems on the surface but at the cost of inconvenience to residents and impaired business opportunities for the rural migrants who rely on food markets as a critical source of employment and opportunity.

FOOD MOVES explores the way that autonomous mobility can transform a food market in Hangzhou as a way of studying the potential for new forms of mobility to improve life in Chinese cities. The project imagines a new facility created by the local government.  Business owners are provided with standardized market stalls that are realized as autonomously mobile units, allowing for centralized management. So those market stalls are able to serve people in the market and then relocate for parts of the day into the neighborhood. Crowded with people and still experiencing an increasing number of migrants each year, Hangzhou is in need of new ideas that maintain the vitality of the market, while improving the urban experience throughout the neighborhood. Housing is also a concern, which invites the possibility of a new market that can add density to the neighborhood by accommodating additional programs above.

FOOD MOVES takes the Civilized City Campaign as a given and reimagines it through the lens of new technological assumptions, proposing a hybrid market space that contributes to  a harmonious neighborhood environment.