Geneva’s Ville est a Vous begins but lack of volunteers shuts neighborhood fleamarkets

St Jean flea market in Geneva Swittzerland
St Jean flea market at the Ville-est-a-vous in Geneva

GENEVA, Switzerland – The wildly popular Ville-est-a-Vous—a bizarre bazaar of neighborhood street festivals featuring blocks and blocks of fleamarkets, music and food stalls—is back but, before you head out with your wears, beware. A lack of volunteers and administrative reluctance is severely cutting back the fun.

Last week, city administrators said the festival was “a victim of its own success” which needed to analyze “how to maintain the friendliness and family atmosphere in an event that attracts thousands of people.” 

To determine the best step forward, Geneva will consult with the Lausanne federal research institute, or EPFL, in charge of studying the reorganized street festival and obtaining feedback from the various neighborhood committees.

Why the hesitation?

Fleamarket in Geneva1In a city where everything is expensive and spontaneous events are rare, many saw these neighborhood parties, the fleamarkets and street food vending as an opportunity for extra cash and off-beat fun. However, with more and more neighborhoods wanting to organize these street fairs but with less and less volunteers wanting to take over the responsibility of dealing with thousands of festival goers, the city is hesitant on the best way forward.

I spoke to the respective authorities in charge of the Ville-est-a-vous, who explained the heavy burden of these parties on the neighborhood committees responsible for organizing them.

In 2015, it took 660 volunteers, supervising 61 streets, 11 parks, 9 playgrounds/school grounds, and the transport of 183 tons of materials to stage 23 days of parties in 12 neighborhoods at a cost of almost half-a million francs. 22,260 people participated actively (between performers, activities organizers and the 7,700 food and fleamarket vendors) attracting a whopping 236,000 visitors.

It was apparent to city officials that something needed to change.

What will these neighborhood fairs look like?

There will be less space given over for markets, and instead, there will be more shows and activities to showcase the city’s rich ethnic and cultural heritage.

5 of 11 of the Ville-est-a-vous events won’t feature fleamarkets but all will continue to be street festivals offering ‘fun zones’.”Sécheron for example will dedicate a street to pedal car races,” I was told, but the fairs won’t turn into mini fetes-de-la-musique, they assured me referring to the mid-summer music festival.

The city is connecting Agenda21-ville durable with the neighborhood committees to discuss the best way to organize the remaining fleamarkets. This is a transitional year, some neighborhoods will allow residents to set-up their stalls from 8:00-9:00 before letting the rest of the public in. Others will require prior registration and yet others will let everyone in at 8:00 to fend-off for themselves. We are trying different options!

I asked organizers if there were plans for allowing persons with reduced mobility and children to set up stalls before opening the gates to the general public,

Spaces for children will be set-up in several neighborhoods, but it is true we never envisioned sections subdivided by young, elderly, persons with reduced mobility… we wanted to create a cohesive space where people could “negotiate” their differences.

This of course works well on paper, but living amidst one of the most popular neighborhood parties in St Jean, I saw one too many fights, one too many kids without a space to sell their toys and elderly vendors being pushed around by others.

Fleamarket in Geneva11
Kids “tag” a plastic wall during a Ville-est-a-vous fair in Geneva.

Is the city sending a message that there is no room for large, loud, popular events?

I asked city officials if reducing pedestrian/car-less spaces didn’t run counter to the spirit of the slogan, loosely translated as “the city belongs to you”,

Absolutely! But let’s remember, this edition is not a year of reference but of transition. In 2017, we will return with a plan more in line with our long-term goals, and more importantly, with more human and financial resources and rules and conditions of participation better adapted to the growing success of this event.

Flea market shoes in Geneva1
One step at a time… at the Ville-est-a-vous in Geneva

Until then, here are the dates for the next neighborhood fairs in Geneva,

  • neighborhood flea market Geneva la ville est a vous7-8 May: Eaux-Vives
  • 15-16 May: Saint-Gervais
  • 4-5 June: Sécheron
  • 11-12 June: Plainpalais
  • 25-26 June: Saint-Jean
  • 27-28 August: Vieusseux
  • 3-4 September: Europe
  • 10-11 September: Jonction
  • 17-18 September: Petit-Saconnex
  • 23-25 September: Pâquis
  • 1-2 October: Saco-Genêts


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