«Contesting the streets Volume 18, number 1 • 2016 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy Development and Research ...»
This article addresses the theme of informal governance practices as they relate to street trading. It begins by establishing a baseline of evidence on these practices from five cities across three continents, drawing from qualitative and quantitative data from 2012. The analysis suggests that three common governance practices—low-level harassment, merchandise confiscations, and periodic evictions—emerge in urban governance contexts in which the rules about the economic right to use public space for petty trading are ambiguous, but also in which limitations on the state’s powers are ambiguous. It then examines legal processes in three of the cities as sites of contestation where street vendors have attempted, and been successful at, establishing clearer limits on the local state’s power to engage in informal governance practices. The analysis implies that the beginnings of a trend toward legalizing the use of public space for trading may be starting to emerge, but that one necessary condition for such legalization is a coalition of street vending organizations and elite actors with a common commitment to advancing the right to livelihood.
Informal Trade Versus Informal Governance in Global Cities Street trade played a central role in the development of the concept of economic informality in the 1970s (Hart, 1973; Moser, 1978) and 1980s (Castells and Portes, 1989; De Soto, 1989). Whereas some of the earlier conceptualizations placed street traders and other informal workers outside state regulations and formal economic structures, more recent research has emphasized the role of the state and social institutions in constructing and governing informality (Harriss-White, 2009;
Roy, 2005; Watson, 2011, 2009; Xue and Huang, 2015).
An important new direction in this recent research is a focus on the interaction between informal traders and local governments. One research strand places explanations of urban governance approaches—including both public space cleansing exercises (Donovan, 2008) and tolerance of street vending (Holland, 2015)—in electoral politics. Another strand emphasizes the nonpermanence of the relationship between street vendors and the state, as incoming municipal administrations constantly renegotiate the terms on which they tolerate informal trade (Roever, 2005; Xue and Huang, 2015).
Several strands also have traced different forms of resistance to neoliberal urban governance approaches that prioritize private investment over public consumption of public space (Crossa, 2009).
All these studies imply that the relationship between informal traders working in public space on the one hand and local government officials charged with governing public space on the other hand is a dynamic one. Often obscured within this dynamic, however, are the regulatory spaces through which local government officials—primarily the police and other enforcement agencies— develop mechanisms to use their own position of relative power to extract concessions, both material and symbolic, from street vendors. These mechanisms are referred to collectively as informal governance practices—informal in that they do not adhere to written norms regulating the ways in which local government authorities are (or are not) empowered to address street vending.
Low-Level Harassment One such mechanism identified in the literature is referred to as “low-level harassment” (Skinner, 2008). This mechanism emerges in situations in which the legitimacy of street vendors’ access to public space is legally or politically ambiguous. Itikawa (2006), for instance, documented “bribes per square meter” paid in downtown São Paulo, where 90 percent of street vendors lack a permit.
Anjaria (2006) similarly showed how an overlay of licensing requirements that are impossible to meet and temporal restrictions on vending activity generated by higher-level city officials can generate a form of double illegality that requires the payment of “double hafta” (bribe) on the part of vendors to lower-level officials. Harassment is not restricted to demands for bribes; researchers have also documented the common police practices of arbitrarily chasing vendors away from their posts and seizing goods for personal consumption (Asiedu and Agyei-Mensah, 2008; Mahadevia, Vyas, and Mishra, 2014). The lack of protection for street vendors is especially evident in cases in which women vendors are targeted for harassment or asked to exchange sex for permits (Lubaale and Nyang’oro, 2013).
Merchandise Confiscations A second mechanism that local enforcement officials use is the seizing of vendors’ merchandise, using one or more components of the legal infrastructure as justification. In India, for example, for decades, police have invoked the India Penal Code of 1860, the India Police Act of 1861, and the Bombay Municipal Corporation Act of 1888 as justification for seizing vendors’ goods (Mahadevia et al., 2012). It is more common that local bylaws contain provisions granting authority to municipal officials to seize vendors’ goods as a sanction against unauthorized use of public space (Skinner, 2008). Those provisions in many cases are not accompanied by limitations on what municipal authorities can do with seized merchandise afterward and, where such limitations exist, vendors have little recourse anyway if their goods are never returned (Roever, 2014).
Evictions A third mechanism through which state actors exert unequal power is arbitrary evictions, often linked to electoral cycles or mega-events (Corrarino, 2014). Small-scale, targeted evictions of vendors from particular streets or blocks are common; a 3-month pilot in 2012 to track evictions worldwide counted at least one per day reported in the mass media in English and Spanish only (WIEGO, 2012). More widely recognized are the large-scale, coordinated evictions implemented by multiple city departments, such as the infamous Operation Murambatsvina in Zimbabwe (Musoni, 2010; Skinner, 2008) and Operation Clean Sweep in Johannesburg, South Africa (BénitGbaffou, 2015), and smaller-scale but notably violent evictions (Swanson, 2007; Xue and Huang, 2015). As Steel, Ujoranyi, and Owusu (2014) noted, these evictions may succeed in clearing the streets for a short time but, over the longer term, they do not actually deter street vending.
Common to these governance practices is a “selective logic of regulation” that generates uneven rules and uneven levels of control across urban spaces (Xue and Huang, 2015). They seem to emerge regardless of what the actual regulations are; the common thread is that formal governance regimes are ambiguous about collective rights to access and use urban public space to carry out livelihoods (Brown, 2015), and the regimes are ambiguous about the limitations on the state to enforce them. The following section examines these practices in five cities: Accra, Ghana; Ahmedabad, India; Durban, South Africa; Lima, Peru; and Nakuru, Kenya.
Legal Ambiguity and Insecurity of Workplace: Evidence From the Informal Economy Monitoring Study This section draws on the Informal Economy Monitoring Study (IEMS), a 10-city study of working conditions in three occupational sectors of the informal economy—home-based work, street vending, and waste picking—undertaken by the global research-policy-advocacy network Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) and membership-based organizations (MBOs)1 of informal workers as part of the 5-year Inclusive Cities project.2 The objective of the IEMS was to provide credible, grounded evidence of a range of driving forces, both positive and negative, that affect conditions of work in the informal economy over time. Using two primary data collection The term MBOs in this report refers to those representing informal workers. Informal workers’ MBOs are a subset of the broader category “membership-based organizations of the poor,” which are defined as organizations whose governance structures respond to the needs and aspirations of the poor because they are accountable to their members (Chen et al., 2007).
More information about the study is at http://wiego.org/wiego/informal-economy-monitoring-study-iems-publications, and more information about the Inclusive Cities project is at http://www.inclusivecities.org.
techniques—one qualitative3 and one quantitative4—the study examined the impact of these drivers across and within sectors and also informal workers’ responses to them. The first round of the study, undertaken in 2012, examined street vending in Accra, Ahmedabad, Durban, Lima, and Nakuru.
The study’s sampling approach was designed to maintain comparability in the results across cities on the one hand and to allow some flexibility as demanded by local circumstances on the other hand. Each city team aimed to include only MBO members or affiliates. Street vendors were sampled along two variables in each city, sex, and location, where location was dichotomized into center-city and noncentral areas.5 Among the respondents in the sample, 72 percent were women and 28 percent were men. In each city, the research team developed the most representative sample possible of MBO members, including both street and market vendors.6 The pervasiveness of the practices noted previously is evident in data from the study, with some interesting variations by city and type of trader. The drivers ranked most important by focus group participants related to workplace insecurity, harassment, and evictions (Roever, 2014: 22). The quantitative data similarly showed that general insecurity of vending sites and harassment on the part of authorities are common problems for street vendors in Ahmedabad, Durban, Lima, and Nakuru, but are less so for vendors in Accra (exhibit 1). Harassment on the part of local authorities and police affect more than one-half the survey sample in Ahmedabad and Durban and nearly one-half in Lima and Nakuru; merchandise confiscations and evictions were also common in Ahmedabad, Durban, and Nakuru.
The data in exhibit 1 reflect somewhat different approaches to the regulation of street trade in the five cities. The Accra sample consists mostly of market traders, who pay a mix of daily, weekly, monthly, and annual fees to the local authority (Anyidoho, 2013; Budlender, 2015). The local governance regime around markets in Accra builds on the historical role that central markets have played in the city’s history; the governance regime around streets, conversely, criminalizes informal trade.
The low percentage of Accra respondents reporting problems associated with an insecure trading site reflects the fact that the sample contains mostly market traders with more secure worksites.
The qualitative component of the study was based on participatory informal economy appraisal (PIEA), an innovative method designed to capture systematically the perceptions and understandings of informal workers, in their own words, in a focus group setting. The PIEA qualitative methodology was developed collaboratively with Caroline Moser, Angélica Acosta, and Irene Vance, who designed the tools and trained the city teams in data collection methods and data analysis.
Each city team—consisting of an MBO coordinator, two qualitative researchers, and two quantitative researchers— conducted 15 focus groups of about five participants each per occupational sector or group (home-based workers, street vendors, and waste pickers).
The quantitative component consisted of a survey questionnaire administered to the 75 focus group participants plus another 75 workers, for a total of 150 respondents per city-sector. The questionnaire was designed to supplement the focus group data by collecting information on the household profile and income sources of the workers; the asset profile of the workers’ households; the enterprise or occupation of the workers; and the linkages between their informal work and the formal economy.
The exception was Ahmedabad, where only women street vendors were sampled because the partner MBO, the SelfEmployed Women’s Association (SEWA), has only women members. In that case, the second sampling variable was product category, dichotomized as food and nonfood vendors.
The findings are therefore not necessarily representative of the entire street vending population in each city—only those affiliated with the MBO.
The Ahmedabad sample to some extent represents the other end of a continuum. This sample consisted only of street traders, none of whom hold a license because the municipality has not issued licenses for many years, despite high court demands to do so (Mahadevia, Vyas, and Mishra, 2014). Street trade in Ahmedabad is not explicitly criminalized in law; in fact, it is one of the few cities where vendors can point to several decades of judicial decisions supporting their right to livelihood. Local authorities, however, routinely apply their own informal governance approaches, rooted in asymmetrical power and a lack of effective rights among the poor, by engaging in all manner of harassment and justifying those actions with colonial-era legal provisions related to public obstruction and public nuisance.
Local authorities in Durban, Lima, and Nakuru all fall somewhere in the middle by applying a mix of permitting or licensing, regulatory restrictions, neglect or forbearance, and low-level harassment to manage street trade. Durban’s policy orientation toward street trade has oscillated from apartheid-era control to inclusion and support and to incremental erosion of that support (Skinner, 2008). The city has a permitting system for street and market traders, and many traders in the sample hold permits; yet the permits do not provide them with effective protection of rights (Mkhize, Dube, and Skinner, 2014; Roever, 2015) because, in practice, few limitations exist on the effective power of the local authorities over traders. Put differently, the written rules are ambiguous enough that they establish opportunities for local authorities to abuse their positions of power and take advantage of traders who have little recourse; for example, one trader said about the police, “they do as they please” (Roever, 2014: 25). This abuse of power helps explain why even a notable portion of market traders—who have a more routinized claim to their space in cities—are subject to harassment, confiscations, and evictions (exhibit 2).