Making space for the poor: Law, rights, regulation and street-trade in the 21st century

01/08/2011 - 31/10/2013


This research addresses issues of poverty and urbanization in the context of the global economic crisis. The project is a collaboration between universities and experts in the UK, Asia, Africa and the Americas, funded by the UK's Economic and Social Science Research Council, and Department for International Development.

The economic crisis brings into sharp relief the crucial role of the urban informal economy as a refuge for the working poor and major component of city economies. In many cities of the global south, informal employment now provides 60-80% of urban jobs. Street trade is one of the informal economy's largest and most problematic domains, legislation covering street trade is complex, poorly documented and erratically applied, and many traders face a hostile regulatory environment.

Research Approach

The research aims to explore the fragmented and plural regulatory environment facing street traders, and conflicts between formal and informal regulatory systems that deepen vulnerabilities for the working poor, especially in contexts of economic turmoil.

The research draws on three core academic debates:

  • the role of law in urban development;
  • the paradigm of legal empowerment of the poor, and
  • the potential of rights-based approaches in supporting fragile urban livelihoods.

Case studies in four cities with different legal traditions, Dar es Salaam, Ahmedabad, Durban and Dakar, draw on extensive interviews with government officials, NGOs, street traders and others. Researchers will work with street trader organisations to ensure that outputs contribute to improved policy development and support informal economy livelihoods.

Research Reports

Working Paper 1 - Law, Rights and Regulation for Street Vending in Globalising Ahmedabad

Working Paper 2 - Claiming Urban Space: Street Vending in Ahmedabad


Lead Investigators

Country Experts

  • Caroline Skinner, African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town, South Africa
  • Professor Darshini Mahadevia, CEPT University, Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad, India
  • Professor Ibrahim Dankoco, Faculté des Sciences, Économiques et de Gestion, Université Cheikh Anta Diop, Dakar, Senegal
  • Dr Colman Titus Msoka, Institute of Development Studies, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Expert Panel

  • UN HABITAT's Urban Economy and Finance Branch
  • Dr Martha Chen, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, USA
  • Edésio Fernandes, Jurist, Development Planning Unit, University College London, UK
  • Professor Willard Kombe, Ardhi University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
  • Annli Kristiansen, Danish Institute of Human Rights, Denmark
  • Claire Améyo Quenum, Women in Law and Development, Lomé, Togo
  • Dr Tulia Ackson, University of Dar es Salaam