Tue | Dec 11, 2018

Editorial | It’s our sidewalk!

Published:Saturday | December 8, 2018 | 12:53 AM

A plea for the municipal authority to address the vending nightmare in Harbour View, St Andrew, tells an eloquent story about the impact of street vending and signals a pressing need to find a workable solution for peddlers in our cities and towns.

The letter writer describes a virtual market on the sidewalk, where a thriving enterprise takes place complete with seats for patrons, which creates a hazard for pedestrians who have no choice but to face danger by walking on the road.

The letter writer reveals that this activity has been going on for more than a year and laments that repeated appeals to the municipal authority since summer 2017 have gone unaddressed.

“Have the truck, jerk man and other vendors move to another location before the holidays, because it was awful last year. This is not a market zone,” writes the concerned citizen.

Sidewalk vending is a topic we have addressed repeatedly, and recognising that this is the busiest shopping season on the calendar, we feel it necessary to have this conversation once more.

It’s that time of the year when we expect to see the municipal authorities try to control or diminish the chaos and hazards associated with street vending. Traditionally, no one – not vendors, not municipal authorities, not shoppers, not competing businesses - is happy with the arrangements.

INFORMAL URBAN ECONOMY

From sidewalk cookshops to hairdressing salons, or the vendor offering a cold drink to slake the thirst of motorists and their passengers, we have come to recognise that street vending is deeply entrenched in our communities. Street vending is an important aspect of the urban informal economy seen at school gates and churchyards. But there is a larger issue at play. These operations must take place in a manner so as not to endanger the safety of persons who are going about their lawful business.

We have nothing against the micro-business person trying to make a livelihood by peddling his wares, and we are not advocating that they be excluded from the domestic economy. Indeed, today’s street vendors could become tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and should be admired for their courage and tenacity. They have somehow, even with limited resources and without the benefit of sophisticated market surveys, been able to determine what the public needs and acquire these goods and deliver them in a timely fashion.

While we recognise the tremendous human, financial and social capital that resides in the informal sector, we nonetheless frown on any kind of unregulated system that results in breaches of laws that are meant to protect the public from hazards and ultimately, keep people safe.

Vending laws should be in place to dictate where such activities are allowed and the penalties ought to be strictly enforced.

So the municipal authorities and other stakeholders need to have some earnest conversations in order to arrive at a way of enhancing the ability of the informal vendor to participate in the economy without creating hazards for others.

Official dialogue about street vending tends to be very emotional. It must first be recognised that these persons are driven by the need to survive and take care of their families. They are, in fact, trying to navigate the hardships of unemployment and can do so with very little capital. The other important factor is how vendors use the public space as their very own marketplace. And the difficulty is to balance the vendor’s attempt to earn a living with the right of the individual to have access to sidewalks that are free of obstruction.