In these satellite images, the street markets glow red.

Scientists will sometimes stain a certain element of organic matter to enhance its visibility under a microscope. These surreal and sharply colored images could be mistaken for such contrast-enhanced biological material.

They are actually Google Earth photos of tianguis, the famous street markets that spring up all across the Distrito Federal. In a collection compiled by Fabian Neuhaus of UrbanTick, and featured on Nicola Twiley's Edible Geography on Monday, the markets -- sheltered beneath red plastic tarps, which gives them their distinctive appearance from the air - look more like living organisms than groups of merchants. They sprawl down certain streets, seemingly chosen at random from an endless grid, turning corners or branching off into side streets. Their logic, from above, is mysterious and undeniable.

On the ground, they are much more chaotic. (See this wonderful description, via Twiley, by food historian Rachel Laudan.) The tianguis, which comes from tianquiztli, an indigenous word for market, are self-regulated and totally unofficial, and hence a constant source of concern for the government, both for health risks and the inevitable traffic jams that ensue when a market consumes a dozen city blocks.

But they are wildly popular. Laudan estimates there are over 1,300 tianguis in Mexico City (metro pop. 21 million) and the city government says there are about 50,000 merchants that participate. They sell everything from groceries to cooked food to household appliances to pirated DVDs - one critic has called them "a pirates paradise." Generally, each tianguis operates according to an informal operational hierarchy, which determines everything from stall selection and placement to parking arrangements.

They are not farmer's markets, Laudan is quick to point out. Many of the groceries come from the city's vast central produce store. But though Wal-Mart is huge in Mexico (the company paid billions of dollars in bribes to become so) and many urban families can get staples at the American superstore, the tianguis retain their popularity among Mexicans of all incomes, for their social atmosphere, contact with vendors, and traditional specialties.

All images from Flickr/UrbanTick.

HT Edible Geography.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: South Korean soldiers attempt to disinfect the sidewalks of Seoul's Gagnam district in response to the spread of COVID-19.
    Coronavirus

    Pandemics Are Also an Urban Planning Problem

    Will COVID-19 change how cities are designed? Michele Acuto of the Connected Cities Lab talks about density, urbanization and pandemic preparation.  

  2. Coronavirus

    Why Asian Countries Have Succeeded in Flattening the Curve

    To help flatten the curve in the Covid-19 outbreak, officials at all levels of government are asking people to stay home. Here's what’s worked, and what hasn't.

  3. Equity

    The Problem With a Coronavirus Rent Strike

    Because of coronavirus, millions of tenants won’t be able to write rent checks. But calls for a rent holiday often ignore the longer-term economic effects.

  4. photo: an empty street in NYC
    Coronavirus

    What a Coronavirus Recovery Could Look Like

    Urban resilience expert Michael Berkowitz shares ideas about how U.S. cities can come back stronger from the social and economic disruption of coronavirus.

  5. photo: a bicycle rider wearing a mask in London
    Coronavirus

    In a Global Health Emergency, the Bicycle Shines

    As the coronavirus crisis forces changes in transportation, some cities are building bike lanes and protecting cycling shops. Here’s why that makes sense.

×