Paving the Way: Street Vendors as Catalysts for Sustainable Urban Development, Another City is Possible

‘Another City is Possible’ is a PRC initiative to strengthen the public dialogue about urban and various issues it is plagued by. Fostering urban as an inclusive space, another city is possible is a podcast series conducted as on-ground sessions, webinars and interactive discussions with a diverse set of stakeholders and their respective urban ecosystems. The city is a complex territory to grasp, carrying the utopian dream of various contradictory forces to coexist. The aggravating crisis of climate change and poli tical disruption calls for a participatory rethinking of the future of our cities, its people and the way they inhabit these megacentres of waste production, capital accumulation, burgeoning inequalities and aspirations.

The city is made possible by the labour of informal sector workers. They are the nuts and bolts of the machine called city, keeping it together and making it affordable for people across the economic spectrum. Hawkers and street vendors account for more than fourteen per cent of the urban informal sector, thus employing around 12 million people. They contribute to the city in a myriad of social, cultural and economic ways. Their livelihood practice and crucial services offered make the city affordable for people across the economic spectrum. The practice of street vending is woven into the history of urban areas and plays a crucial role in activating public space while promoting pedestrian-based movement. However, despite their crucial work and minimum carbon footprint, street vendors and hawkers are the worst affected by climate change-induced disasters like heat waves, heavy rainfall and covid induced lockdown. Street Vendor Act 2014 (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of street vending), based on Article 21, has been designed to protect and regulate street vending in urban areas. It has been nine years since the act was passed, but the on-ground implementation of it still remains patchy, thus making the hawkers and street vendors continuously fight to acquire legitimacy in the public sphere. The dominant ideology behind up-and-coming cityscapes is that of a modernist concept of urban order attracting vast sums of investment. This begs us to ponder what kind of an urban sociological landscape we are imagining for the future of our cities. Whether there is any kind of strict social protection system that helps the street vendors manoeuvre the current inhospitable city where urban space and social practices are state regulated. Do the urban development projects sprouting in every corner of the metropolis take into account the needs and struggles of hawkers who are reduced to illegal occupants of streets disrupting the idealized urban order.

In this part of ‘Another City is Possible’, we discussed the role of street vendors in the fight for inclusive, resilient and sustainable urbanism. We also engaged in dialogue on how all stakeholders can be included in the street design process and be empowered as a collective to challenge the day-to-day struggles, which include harassment by authorities, pressures from market traders and others. PRC intended to highlight and understand their issues and imagine radical ways of reconfiguring the power structure in urban spaces.

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