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Making a living in the street

This research explored the themes of public space and street trade through the lens of the urban livelihoods framework in order to contribute to the understanding of how poor people, both street traders and other informal sector operators, access and use public space to support their livelihoods.

Hawking, trading, vending, or portering – street trading has many names and many local variations. Yet, street trading is the forgotten economy and public space is often an arena for contest, where street traders’ activities are prescribed by restrictive social norms, ambiguous legal status, street violence, or official responses that vacillate between indifference and eviction.

Every day millions of people in cities of the developing world seek their fortunes on the street. Their livelihoods depend on transactions for tiny sums that may make the difference between survival or destitution.

Based on comparative studies of street trade in Dar es Salaam, Kathmandu, Kumasi, and Maseru, a core finding of the research was that the policies, institutions and processes of local government are critical in reducing or perpetuating the vulnerability of street traders. Urban public space is the new place of work for many of the urban poor, yet city authorities face many challenges in balancing competing demands over urban space.

The research concluded that applying existing human rights frameworks to street traders and enshrining a ‘right to work’ in legislation are essential foundations for an enabling policy framework, that recognises the complex and overlapping property and access rights that already pertain to urban space, and provides legitimacy for street traders to increase security of livelihoods for the urban poor.

Funder

DFID Committee for Social Science Research (2002-2005)

People

  • Professor Alison Brown, Cardiff University
  • Professor Tumsifu Jonas Nnkya, Institute of Human Settlements Studies, Ardhi University, Tanzania
  • Professor Sudha Shrestha, Institute of Engineering, Tribhuvan University of Nepal
  • Dr Rudith King, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana
  • Dr Setšabi Setšabi, National University of Lesotho
  • Professor Carole Rakodi, University of Birmingham