«Contesting the streets Volume 18, number 1 • 2016 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy Development and Research ...»
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46 Contesting the Streets The Critical Role of Street Vendor Organizations in Relocating Street
Vendors Into Public Markets:
The Case of Hsinchu City, Taiwan Chia Yang Weng Hsinchu City Government, Taiwan Annette M. Kim University of Southern California Abstract This article analyzes how the Hsinchu municipal government in Taiwan was able in one instance to successfully relocate street vendors into a thriving public market, the Zhu Lian market, but failed in another instance to replicate this success with the Guan Dong market. These two cases both involved in situ relocation of street vendors with similar economic situations. Fieldwork and key informant interviews with vendors and government officials were carried out in Hsinchu City, Taiwan, in 2012.
The research finds that street vendor organizations play a crucial role during the relocation process. In game theory terms, the organization can shape the multiplayer dynamic game of relocating a large number of vendors to overcome the prisoner’s dilemma and play a cooperative game for mutual benefits. The article also discusses the potential pitfalls of relying on strong vendor organizations in managing street vendors in the city. Increasing the authority and autonomy of organizational leaders can enable them to bypass lower-ranking officers and negotiate directly with high-ranking officers and politicians, fostering a political patronage system in the city.
Introduction Street vending is a global urban phenomenon in both the east and the west (Ball, 2002; Bhowmik, 2005; Cross, 2000; Roever, 2006). Conflict and negotiation between street vendors and city governments take place in every major city around the world, and numerous laws and municipal Cityscape 47 Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research • Volume 18, Number 1 • 2016 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development • Office of Policy Development and Research Weng and Kim ordinances are regularly devised to regulate street vendors (Brown, 2006; Cross and Morales, 2007;
Kim, 2012). The most common ways city governments regulate street vendors include (1) limiting the number of vendors through licenses or permits, (2) designating public spaces such as streetvending zones, and (3) relocating vendors into public market buildings (Garnett, 1995; 2009).
Of these strategies, the effort to move vendors off the street and into market halls and buildings involves more significant public investment and is more complex in its attempt to formalize spaces for vendors. Often, implementation has been problematic because the spatial locations and arrangements are not economically feasible for vendors’ livelihoods (Morales and Kettles, 2009).
How to spatially manage street vending is a vexing conundrum for many cities around the world.
This article offers the case study of the Taiwanese city of Hsinchu to analyze the reasons why the municipal government in one instance was able to successfully relocate street vendors into a new thriving public market building, the Zhu Lian (ZL) market, but in another instance was unable to replicate this success with the Guan Dong (GD) market project.
In both cases, Hsinchu City worked through the institution of the street vendor organization. The role of vendor organizations is not well studied in the vending policy literature when hypothesizing the problems of previous attempts to manage street vendors through the formalization of public markets. This study focuses on them in order to find what role they may have played in the successful ZL public market case. Then, the comparative GD public market case, in which the city government tried to replicate its success with the ZL market, provides further insights about both the necessary and sufficient conditions that are needed.
Review of the Literature Street vendors usually develop a sense of entitlement to the space in the city they use to vend, especially if they have been allowed to use the space regularly for a long time. Whether through tacit condoning or an impracticality to evict, the status quo that is built with neighbors and customers helps to socially construct this entitlement. As a result, vendors usually have built social networks and figured out a way to make business profitable (Kim, 2015).
Meanwhile, street vending is viewed as a sign of poverty and underdevelopment by developmental states eager to grow the nation’s economy and world standing. Vending’s demise is considered a desirable sign of progress toward a more prosperous and developed urban environment. Although municipal governments sometimes may enjoy some success in progressing toward such an environment, street vendors are resilient because of the necessity for livelihood. The police may be able to stamp out street vendors in certain parts of the city, but the street vendors may simply move their business to other parts of the city where enforcement is less aggressive and proactive. Or vendors may wait until enforcement wanes and then return to their old places. Therefore, municipal governments have used another strategy—relocating street vendors to designated vending districts or public markets. Implementing such projects usually involves a long and difficult process of negotiating with vendors. In cities where the occasional off-street public markets have been built, many of those markets suffer high desertion rates and fail altogether. The following list describes the reasons for their failure.
1. Ill-conceived location. The new off-street market ideally should be highly visible to customers and be easily accessible. Appropriate locations are usually difficult to find because of high urban land values and the preexisting densely built environment. Lyons and Msoka (2010: 1091) noted that, “The relocation to customer-poor sites makes it difficult for many—and impossible for some—to rebuild their businesses.” Cross (1998) also pointed to unprofitable locations as one crucial factor that led to the rejection of enclosed public markets in Mexico City.
2. Bureaucratic regulations. After moving into an enclosed public market, street vendors generally have to face more regulatory compliance obligations with the formal market—obligations that they did not have to deal with when they were on the street (Cross, 1998; Donovan, 2008;
Kettles, 2004). In addition, the city government’s rigid method of allocating market booths (such as long-term leases and standardized booth sizes and designs) may not fit well with the needs of street vendors (Morales, 2010).
3. Lack of customer drawing power. Vendors may also find it difficult to keep their customer base in new locations (Bromley, 2000; Donovan, 2008; Lyons and Msoka, 2010). Because business relocation is disruptive to business, relocating in situ or in close proximity is important.
Furthermore, part of the advantage of shopping in the street often was the convenience to customers en route. The new public market’s design, however, may increase shopping time and costs without offering enough substitutionary advantages. Bromley (2000: 19) noted, “When customers fail to follow, the vendors have little choice but to return to the streets.” The issues cited in the preceding list put primary agency in the government: successfully relocating and nurturing vibrant public markets depends on the actions of the state. The literature about the social networks of street vendor associations or organizations, however, suggests that such organizations could play a vital role in the relocation process. For one, they could help negotiate vendors’ interests with complex bureaucracies. In addition to having negotiating power, they may have detailed knowledge about the practical needs of street vendors’ livelihoods, which is key to devising any successful street vendor relocation program. If vendor associations do exist, they could also play a key role because their social support network, norms, and regulations might be the ones more relevant to vendors and might also complement, compete with, or challenge the efforts of the state (Cross, 1998; Peña, 2000). Beyond representation, however, it is less clear what role the street vendor organization may play in implementing a relocation program.
This article focuses on further analyzing the role of street vendor organizations in public programs to relocate vendors into market buildings. It aims to tease out lessons by comparing one successful and one failed street vendor relocation case in Hsinchu City, Taiwan. Rather than primarily focusing on the actions of the government, we seek the point of view of the street vendors themselves as well as the government. The goal of this research is to understand what factors make a street vendor relocation process successful, both in terms of empowering street vendors to improve their situation and in terms of the government’s objective to relocate vendors off the street.
Case Selection and Methods Hsinchu City, with a population of 0.45 million, is known for its high-technology industries; its residents’ median incomes are the highest in Taiwan. Street vendors in Hsinchu City operate under
three kinds of legal statuses: (1) government-registered (GR) street vendors, (2) governmentcondoned street vendors, and (3) undocumented (UN) street vendors. At the time of this study, roughly 2,500 street vendors were operating in Hsinchu City before the relocation projects discussed in this article began (Taiwan, 2003).
We chose the ZL and GD as comparison cases because they were similar in some important ways.
The two public markets are located in the same administrative district in Hsinchu City and are close to each other—the Euclidean distance between these two markets is less than 4.4 miles. The opening of the markets occurred only 7 years apart, with the ZL market opening in 1999 and the GD market in 2006. Both markets are located in middle- to upper middle-class neighborhoods, and most market vendors in both markets have secondary education.
Both cases involve groups of vendors that had existed in the city for more than 40 years. Their long history of existence implies that they enjoyed a stable market demand for their goods and services.
They also make interesting comparison cases because ZL is the larger group involving 500 street vendors while GD involved 100 vendors. ZL’s larger size would imply a more challenging collective action problem (Olson, 1965; Ostrom, 1990), which makes its success even more interesting to investigate.
Although the ZL public market is located closer to the old Central Business District in Hsinchu City, which would place it in a more valuable location, it also faces stronger competition from other downtown shopowners and street vendors. On the other hand, even though the population density of the eastern part of the city is lower, the GD public market faces less competition because no other public market or Special Street Vending Area (SSVA) operates in the eastern parts of the city.
So, in sum, many of the common obstacles to vendor relocation problems are held constant between these two cases. They both involved relocations in situ, dealt with the same bureaucracies, and used the same public market designs. Thus, rather than focusing on state actions, we focus on the role of the vendor organizations and ask the following research questions.
Research Question 1. How did the vendor organization negotiate and manage the relocation process in the ZL case and how did its actions contribute to the vendors’ decisions to move and to stay in the new public market?
Research Question 2. Why did the lessons learned from the ZL market fail to generate a successful market project in GD? What happened differently? What factors led to the failure of the GD street vendor relocation process?
The case study method was chosen as the appropriate method to answer these questions about complex organizational behavior and relationships and to search for new variables to explain success and failure. These case studies were built through fieldwork undertaken in Taiwan in the summer of 2012. The research included semistructured interviews conducted in the Chinese language.
The 34 total interviewees included 6 ZL market customers, 4 ZL market vendors, 5 ZL vendor association leaders, 3 GD market customers, 2 GD street vendors who left the market, 2 GD market vendors who stayed, 3 GD vendor association leaders, and 9 Hsinchu City government officials.
The study also involved participant observations at the markets and their surrounding streets and a review of government documents and secondary data. The interviews were triangulated with each other and with secondary data in order to allow for some falsifiability.
The Relocation Process of the Zhu Lian Street Vendors Street vendors first started conducting their business on the streets around ZL Temple, a faith center with historical and religious significance in Hsinchu City, Taiwan, in the late 1800s. By the late 1970s, it was estimated that more than 500 street vendors earned their living in the ZL street market every day (Tai, 2005).