Justice for Street Vendors
Governments in the Global South have rushed to “clean up” cities and adopt strategies to formalize the informal economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet such efforts often fail to recognize public space as a workplace and criminalize the affected workers.
WASHINGTON, DC – A wave of evictions recently hit in Dakar’s bustling Liberté 6 market, a roughly mile-long commercial hub that has served its community for more than 20 years. Hundreds of street vendors’ stalls were bulldozed to make way for a new bus system. Authorities gave prior notice and an indemnity to help with the loss of business, but did not address the real problem: the lack of trading space.
Street vending is a legitimate economic activity that provides livelihoods for millions and accounts for a large share of urban employment in many cities across the Global South. Nearly 59,000 street vendors work in Dakar, accounting for 13.8% of total employment, while metropolitan Lima has roughly 450,000, comprising 8.8% of total employment. And these numbers are likely growing as the informal economy absorbs many of those left unemployed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is a livelihood that requires one resource above all: access to busy, pedestrian-friendly, well-connected, and affordable public space. But government authorities focus instead on “cleaning up” cities, which means clearing the streets of vendors. In their view, informal traders are a nuisance: they litter and clutter streets, obstruct urban mobility, and occupy precious space that could be used for modernization or beautification projects, or sold to deep-pocketed developers and transformed into oases of leisure for urban elites.
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