Giving the Informal Economy a Voice in Planning Processes

In the first of a new series of articles tackling urban livelihoods, Caroline Skinner explains why the informal workforce matters, and offers six strategies for developing more inclusive urban planning processes.

October 24, 2012, 11:00 AM PDT

By Erica Gutiérrez


Despite the myriad contributions informal workers make to the economies of urban areas in developing countries, the norm is to exclude this sector from effective participation in policy-making and planning, asserts Skinner. She enumerates several widely unrecognized ways that informal activities contribute to local economies, such as alleviating poverty in the most marginalized city areas, while leaving behind a smaller carbon footprint. Informal activities also provide "low-cost inputs, goods, and services" to other enterprises, while using "less space and fewer resources."

2012 International Labour Organization (ILO) and Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing & Organizing (WIEGO) statistics show that "informal employment in developing regions accounts for between 45 percent (in the Middle East and North Africa) and 82 per cent (in South Asia) of non-agricultural employment", says Skinner, and although informal incomes tend to be quite low, when examined as a whole, they significantly impact national gross domestic product (GDP), averaging 41 per cent in the case of 16 Sub-Saharan countries.

Despite their contribution, informal activities are more often than not seen as undesirable, especially to cities seeking "world class" status. Skinner proposes six priorities to help cities address this policy dilemma: (1) providing housing that can support livelihoods, basic services and transportation, (2) securing access to facilities and infrastructure, (3) pursuing legal reform that recognizes the needs of informal employment, (4) guaranteeing access to support and financial services, (5) a consideration of how privatization affects informal workers and finally, (6) the inclusion of informal workers in decision-making processes.

In driving the last priority point home, Skinner concludes, "It is a matter of planning with rather than planning for informal workers."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 in The Global Urbanist

Chicago Commute

Planning for Congestion Relief

The third and final installment of Planetizen's examination of the role of the planning profession in both perpetuating and solving traffic congestion.

May 12, 2022 - James Brasuell

Twin Cities

Minneapolis Housing Plan a Success—Not for the Reason You Think

Housing advocates praise the city’s move to eliminate single-family zoning by legalizing triplexes on single-family lots, but that isn’t why housing construction is growing.

May 13, 2022 - Reason

Single-Family Housing Construction

New White House Housing Initiative Includes Zoning Reform Incentives

The Biden administration this morning released a new program of actions intended to spur housing construction around the United States.

May 16, 2022 - The White House

University of Arizona

Proposed Transit Line Would Connect Downtown Tucson to Airport

Based on community input for a 15-mile transit line, residents want to see a focus on affordable housing development and anti-displacement measures.

3 hours ago - KGUN

Shuttered strip mall in Niland, California

Strip Malls as a Housing Solution

The American strip mall may be a dying breed of commercial development, but could the buildings serve a new use as sustainable housing?

5 hours ago - Yale Environment 360

Complete Street Vancouver

Study: Most of Vancouver Is a ‘15-Minute City’

A large majority of Vancouver residents can access a grocery store in 15 minutes or less by bicycle or on foot.

May 20 - Vancouver Sun

HUD’s 2022 Innovative Housing Showcase

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Expanding HUD’s Eviction Protection Grant Program

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

New Updates on The Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.