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.
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."
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