Street Vendors: Supporters or Spoilers of Public Space?

Ethan Kent, Enrique Penalosa, and Jonathan Crush offer contrasting perspectives on the effect of informal street vending on public spaces.
April 2, 2013, 1pm PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Kent, Vice President of the Project for Public Spaces, argues that street vending contributes to the public realm. "Cities first formed as informal street markets, and perhaps the core of where they often go wrong is where they have worked to eliminate that primary function," he says. "When supported and showcased, street vendors, and the life they support, can help create iconic places that are cultural drivers that define cities."

Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, takes the contrary viewpoint. To him, "Vendors on sidewalks are a sign of lack of respect for the human dignity of pedestrians....Vendors in Manhattan are not a sign of a healthy democratic city, but a sign of decay, affecting particularly the low-income citizens with no alternative to public pedestrian space for their leisure."

Finally, Crush, the CIGI chair in global migration and development at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, argues that vendors are a net benefit in that they fill an unmet consumer need. "Pedestrians are not just pedestrians, traversing a safe space to get from point A to point B," he explains. "They are also consumers. If they were not, then the informal traders would not be there in the first place. In other words, the question is not just about incomes and the livelihoods of vendors but the interests of consumer-pedestrians."

"Informal vendors should have every right to sell on the pavements and if some pedestrians and policy-makers don’t like this, then it is incumbent that the vendors have alternative spaces which are directly and continuously accessible to their primary market, the pedestrian consumer," Crush concludes.

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Published on Tuesday, April 2, 2013 in Next City
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