Street vendors and cities

Despite its evident contribution to urban life and the urban economy, as well as its role in urban food security, street vending is still regulated in exclusionary or contradictory ways. In a recent article published in Environment and Urbanization, Sally Roever and Caroline Skinner synthetise research and evidence on the issue of street vending and cities. They explore everyday challenges that street vendors face and call for an end to  the criminalisation of this activity. Rather, they argue, it is time to take advantage of street vending’s potential and facilitate street vendors’ access to urban land and spaces.

The authors make use of data from the Informal Economy Monitoring Study (IEMS), a “10-city study of working conditions among home-based workers, street vendors and waste pickers undertaken in 2012 by the WIEGO network and local partners” (p :1). This monitoring study helps to trace more qualitatively the everyday challenges faced by street vendors, such as evictions and relocations.

The authors first show how street vendors actually pay a lot of taxes and fees — money that contributes to local and national government revenue. Nearly two-thirds of the 743 street vendors sampled in the IEMS study paid for a license, permit or access to public space. Also, “many pay value added tax on their purchases, although they are unable to charge it on their sales” (p:4).

With regard to exclusionary policies and practices, the authors note three dominant tendencies. The first one is when street vendors are literally evicted from public spaces, like in Zimbabwe’s Harare with operation Murambatsvina. The second  is relocation. They note that street vendors are increasingly exposed to rising real estate prices, especially in central parts of cities, which eventually pushes them to relocate.

Lastly, street vendors also experience ongoing harassment from state officials. This is generally facilitated by hostile legislation towards street vendors. For instance, the number of licenses offered to street vendors is often much lower than the real number of workers. In Nairobi, Lyon and Snoxell (2005) found that only 7,000 licenses and formal sites were made available for an estimated 500,000 street traders.

Workplace insecurity, harassment, confiscations and evictions eventually impact significantly on vendors’ incomes and productivity. Roever and Skinner highlight that general workplace insecurity, more than exclusionary policies per se, is actually more destabilizing for street vendors, as it impacts not only on their earnings but also on their “assets and their time” (p:13).

Article available from Environment and Urbanization, Vol 28, No. 2 October 2016, [sub required]

Image: wikimedia commons


Publication Type Journal Article
Publisher Environment and Urbanization
Year 2016
Author(s) Sally Roever and Caroline Skinner
DOI 10.1177/0956247816653898
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