Mills, Markets, and Food: Landscapes From Detroit, Michigan and Kikinda, Serbia Yield a Bounty of Heritage Values

Co-written by Emilie Evans, Director, Rightsizing Cities Initiative with Heritage Strategies International and Hristina Mikic Creative Economy Group, Estela Radonjic Živkov Republic Institute for heritage protection Serbia

Food is the social, familial, and cultural glue that connects and brings people together. Sites of culinary heritage are often also sites where communal and social activities took place, traditions were passed down among generations, and diverse groups came together cohesively. In this piece, two sites of culinary and social history 5,000 miles apart show that, yet again, food connects not only city centers to their regions but indeed, all of us, one to another. The Habitat 3 New Urban Agenda speaks to the power of Cultural Heritage as an Enabler for Social Cohesion, Inclusion, and Equity.  These sites exemplify those concepts by encouraging local heritage ownership, supporting entrepreneurship that empowers local communities, and hosting complementary cultural activities. They also reflect how important it is to recognize both the tangible and intangible aspects of these cultural landscapes in order to leverage the full potential of heritage for territories.

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Linking the Center to its Territories and People to Each Other

Detroit’s Eastern Market is located one mile from the city’s downtown and serves as a large, dynamic hub for selling and buying produce, flowers, and meats. The dozens of 2-3 story brick buildings surrounding the market contain small businesses, art galleries, food processing facilities, and other retailers — some recent and some generations-old.  Eastern Market moved to its current site in 1891, with subsequent sheds built in the 1920s to accommodate the burgeoning population of buyers and sellers. By the end of World War II, Eastern Market was a 43-acre site with a six-block public market at its center.
Even as the city declined in population, and as industries and jobs continued to disappear or move elsewhere, Eastern Market continued to function as an active food distribution center and hub for small, often multi-generational family-owned businesses. And, as in many cities facing similar challenges, Detroit’s Eastern Market offered vacant or low-rent industrial spaces that fostered a community of artists that is still thriving today. For decades, murals have adorned the brick walls of Eastern Market’s buildings. Today, the culture of adorning the market with breathtaking decorative murals continues to expand, marrying a culture of agriculture and food distribution with creative arts and small business.
In 2015, the restoration and rehabilitation of Eastern Market’s Shed 5 was completed, which included a fully-restored public marketspace to expand fresh food access, as well as a unique Community Kitchen designed incubate Detroit’s growing local food economy, provide commercial kitchen space for food entrepreneurs, and serve as a community meeting space for cooking and nutrition classes. Here, children and families from around the city and region are able to explore fresh and healthy food preparation; entrepreneurs can partake in workshops and technical assistance in the commercial kitchen space; and generations can gather to learn from one another.
Eastern Market is the largest historic public market in the United States and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As historic sites are apt to do, Eastern Market continues to adapt itself and its offerings to meet the changing landscape of Detroit while staying true to its history and functionality as a thriving, popular food market. Every week, Eastern Market serves the Metro Detroit region’s diverse residents, visitors, and business owners with tangible goods and intangible heritage as a fulcrum of commerce, social and cultural activity, and economic growth.
Five thousand miles away, in the Kikinda area of northern Serbia, Dray Mil “Suvača” — a historic horse-powered grain mill — is being rehabilitated. Historically, dry mills (along with windmills) were facilities used for milling grains with a stone-wheel mechanism. Available data demonstrates that Kikinda and its surrounding area had a large number of these mills, and that there were as many as 51 in 1847. Currently, Dray Mill Suvača is the only preserved horse-powered grain mill in Serbia and is thus extremely rare.
Dray Mill Suvača has always been a place of gathering and one of the centers of social life in Kikinda. The economy of Kikinda has been driven by agriculture and agronomy for centuries. Its size and the fact that it was merely one among dozens of other dry mills in Kikinda means that this monument is a witness of grain production development. Suvača stands as testimony to a lifestyle and livelihood in Northern Banat.
Despite the fact that Suvača no longer operates as a mill, it preserves tangible cultural heritage and intangible cultural heritage: traditional construction techniques, livelihood, manner of grain processing, milling as a craft, bread making tradition, custom of association of farmers in co-operatives, culture of housing, customary law, legends, beliefs, and more. Rehabilitation of Suvača started in 2012, and this process has empowered the community to share local identity and traditional memory, as well as strengthened citizens’ pride in local history.
Suvača’s rehabilitation focused on its transformation into a community center, which assists development and improvement of cultural needs and development of sustainable entrepreneurship for the local population, primarily women and youth. In Kikinda there are 130 small creative industries entrepreneurs, about of 70% are women. Some of them use yard space of Suvača to present their products and knowledge of making different creative and gastronomy products grounded on the revival of intangible heritage (e.g. the gastronomy based on traditional flour products, pasta, pastries, bread, strudels, corn based handcrafts). The Women Association “Suvača,” in cooperation with the Kikinda National Museum, supports the rehabilitation process by organizing events  like the Lala breakfast “At the Suvača at 5.” These events promote Suvača’s history, local gastronomy, and teach skills for making traditional pastry, bread, and Kikinda strudel. They facilitate connection and exchange of knowledge among urban and rural community members and between generations, imparting Kikinda traditions to young people.
The rehabilitation of Suvača is exciting young people’s interest in local rural traditions, and also teaching them about healthy living. Community events during the rehabilitation process contribute to improvement of social well-being and integration of the local population, especially middle-aged housewives. Their contribution and key role in transferring traditional knowledge and safeguarding intangible heritage instills pride and a feeling of value for their community.
Detroit’s Eastern Market and Serbia’s Suvača are just two examples of the power rehabilitation, adaptive reuse, and of course, food, have to bring people together, share tangible and intangible heritage and trades, and drive economic growth and expansion.
Sources for Kikinda Suvača:  Radonjić Živkov, E.  et al. (2014) Business plan for rehabilitation of Suvaca in Kikinda, Ljubljana process II; Radonjić Živkov, E. Dimitrijević, Lj. (2013) Anthropological analysis of Suvaca in Kikinda, Ljubljana Process II; Radonjić Živkov, E. Dimitrijević, Lj. (2014) „Suvača“ in Kikinda – An Anthropological analysis of cultural values, Communications XLVI – 2014.

Editor’s Note

On May 6, the U.N. released the Zero Draft (i.e. the first draft) of the proposed outcome document for the monumental Habitat 3 meeting occurring later this year.  This document, known as the New Urban Agenda, is meant to be a road map reflecting a global consensus on the path to sustainable cities and towns in the 21st century. It also may well prove to be one of the most consequential steps ever taken in terms of establishing the role of historic preservation and culture in global efforts to achieve safe, inclusive, sustainable and resilient cities. A key reason for this is that the New Urban Agenda is the first major step for operationalizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015. Unlike prior development agendas, this one speaks boldly about heritage. Of the 7 targets making up the groundbreaking new Urban Goal, Target 11.4 calls for “making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable by strengthening efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.”
With so much on the line, the Zero Draft was eagerly awaited by the historic preservation community and, now that it’s been released, is being carefully reviewed.   Recently ICOMOS released a draft set of comments on the Zero Draft.
In the comments, ICOMOS welcomed the inclusion of references to cultural and natural heritage in Paragraph 38 and of cultural landscapes in Paragraph 124 of the Zero Draft.  At the same time, the comments stress the importance of more broadly incorporating landscape-scale approaches to planning, conservation, management and intervention in the urban environment in the New Urban Agenda. Such approaches emphasize the historic layers and inter-linkages of cultural and natural values and attributes.  They extend the concern of urban historic preservation beyond the notion of “historic center”  to include the broader regional context, including linkages to territories. Mapping natural and cultural heritage elements as assets for sustainable development, social cohesion and improved livelihoods, as well as effective, multi-stakeholder engagement, are fundamental to landscape approaches.
Proven tools have been developed to realize the benefits of these approaches, including the UNESCO Historic Urban Landscape model.  ICOMOS urged that this landscape framework be better manifested in the New Urban Agenda.  A good way to do this would be to do this would be to reference “landscapes approaches” in paragraph 97 and to acknowledge the inter-linkages of natural and cultural heritage in Section 72.
The comments also express the concern that the  role boldly assigned to Heritage in the “Leave No One Behind” Agenda on Urban Equity and Poverty Eradication by SDG Goal 11.4 is not adequately carried forward in the Zero Draft.  ICOMOS has recommended that Section 38 of the Draft by revised to address the capacity of heritage safeguarding to facility social integration though shared attachment to place, creativity and livability, and as a way to strengthen safety, sustainability, resilience and inclusion.

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