Commercial and street activity intersect in Accra

“Original memory card, original pen drive, original battery, local battery, mp3, original battery, local charger,” a recorded voice blares repeatedly from a loudspeaker. The speaker is attached to a small wooden stall, laden with small-scale electronics: phones, phone covers, headphones, pen drives. It’s one of many stalls situated in the open space at Tetteh Quarshie Interchange — one of Accra’s bustling hubs for transport and commercial activity, both formal and informal. The interchange is a sizeable space that includes the major magnet of the Accra Mall, a series of bus stops and taxi ranks, and the space in between where people navigate from place to place.

Vehicular traffic, human traffic and commercial traffic intersect and overlap at Tetteh Quarshie Interchange in Accra, Ghana. Victoria Okoye/africanurbanism.net.

The interconnected and looping roads of the interchange guide vehicular traffic to Tema to the west, Achimota to the east, Accra Central to the south, and Legon to the north. They have also carved out open, segregated spaces at the interchange. Unlike a typical park, these areas, although green, seem to have been planned for viewing and landscaping purposes only, not for social activity. Cement sidewalks line the two- and three-lane roadways, but pedestrians have created their own footpaths, creating shortcuts that enable their easy human traffic, delineating the shortest distances from place to place.

Small-scale informal trading has crept in at the interchange, with vendors attracted by the wealth of human traffic and sales opportunities in the space. Victoria Okoye/africanurbanism.net.

Informal vendors set up shop here each day, and it’s at the end of the business day when traffic is at its height. As throughout the city, these vendors tread a delicate balance between situating their activities in “public” spaces (here, any open, “unused” grounds, including the roadside, sidewalks, even available spaces at bus stops) where their exposure, access to customers, and corresponding sales will be greatest, while getting around the decrees of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly, which stipulate they can’t set up shop on weekdays until after 4 p.m., and can’t obstruct traffic.

Informal vendors have to balance opportunities for cash with the threat of eviction by municipal officials. They congregate around commercial magnets like the Accra Mall, where daily human traffic is guaranteed. Victoria Okoye/africanurbanism.net.

A common tactic for many electronics vendors is to blare their sales pitches over loudspeakers. Victoria Okoye/africanurbanism.net.

Just outside the Accra Mall that sells the same merchandise, vendors sell men’s and women’s shoes, pirated movies, small-scale electronics and housewares, perfume, cologne, phone credit, books, fruits in season, kebab and candies. Street items are cheaper but mostly secondhand or “China” quality, an adjective used by vendors to signify quality less than standard, but cheap and workable.

The mall is a major commercial and social space in and of itself, attracting teenagers seeking social spaces, expatriates, affluent Ghanaians and those looking to patronize a more western-oriented shopping experience. Inside, people shop and hang out inside its stores and corridors, eat and socialize at the food court and catch movies at the city’s largest movie theatre. But outside, it’s the informal vendors who have first pickings at customers’ pockets, and also offer affordable alternatives to the high-priced merchandise inside.

These outside informal vendors add an unintended level to Tetteh Quarshie’s planned commercial landscape. In Accra, as the commercial spaces have expanded, so too has informal vending, creating a layered street culture that although unplanned, has steadily developed as a norm.

The layers of traffic — vehicular and human — intersect at Tetteh Quarshie Interchange. Often they overlap as well. Victoria Okoye/africanurbanism.net.

 

Read Victoria’s previous blog posts:

“Accra’s Efua Sutherland Children’s Park has limited access.”

“Accra’s Mmofra Foundation puts children at the center of public space design.”

Based in Accra, Ghana, Victoria Okoye is a community planner, urbanist and communications professional passionate about inserting community dialogue into the planning process. In her writings and research she explores the dynamics of West African cities, the people in them, and how they negotiate their space. Victoria has master’s degrees in Urban Planning and International Affairs from Columbia University, and she has worked in Nigeria and Ghana on local economic development, cultural planning, urban transport-land use and water, sanitation and hygiene, as well as local community development projects. Connect with Victoria on her blog African Urbanism and on Twitter.

 

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