Urban pavement vending and the broader commercial culture

Over a period of several years urban street vending has experienced a painstaking graduation process from the status of a nuisance that simply got into the way of the various other more mundane pursuits of city life to a facet of commerce that is recognized (there are those who would say tolerated) as what one might call ‘legitimate business,’ insofar as it has not only become legitimized in more ways than one but also given the fact that it provides a living for hundreds of urban, almost certainly mostly working class families..

Other things about urban street vending have changed too. These days, the pavements are more encumbered by the greater numbers of vendors though the rest of the population have become (or at least, so it seems) more tolerant of street vending. The thriving nature of street vending can also be attributed to the virtual disappearance of their enduring nemesis, the City Police, whose reign of ‘regulation’ collapsed in a heap against the backdrop of intimidation and shakedown charges and the gradual meltdown of the broader administrative machinery at City Hall. For our part, we have simply learnt to ‘embrace’ urban pavement vending as a bona fide part of the domestic trading culture.

City Hall having beat an undignified retreat from the problem, the long-serving, established high street traders have learnt to live with the pavement vendors.

Some things have changed though. Not least the overwhelming transformation of the downtown trading environment arising out of the arrival of the Chinese merchants to supplant many of the traditional high street shop owners and perhaps to the surprise of many,  to fashion relationships with the street vendors that allow for amicable coexistence.

There used to be a time when the urban pushback against pavement vending manifested itself in a vigorous public lobby for more designated trading spaces for the vendors. After the Water Street Arcade – which, frankly, did less than might have been expected to curb the incidence of pavement vending – it seemed that there was simply no more room at locations that could be considered vantage points for street vending. At any rate, after a while the concern about what to do about pavement vendors became subsumed beneath what was seen as a far greater challenge, what to do about vending of all sorts in the vicinity of the Stabroek Market and the impact that that was having on government’s focus on responding to the eyesore that parts of the capital had become.

The challenge of restoring the capital within the framework of making allowances for a commercial culture which, these days, includes a much higher volume of high street trading has become a major one. Part of the reason reposes in the perfectly justifiable official emphasis on the ‘greening’ of the capital the notion of which simply cannot live cheek by jowl with the various pockets of filth and unsightliness that attend parts of the urban trading culture. It need hardly be said that from the standpoints of both a strategic plan to tackle this challenge and the resources with which to execute such a plan City Hall is hopelessly out of its depth.

Mercifully, the high street pavement vendors, these days, appear to have applied some useful protocols to their garbage management regime, never mind what is now the deeply disturbing reality of what would appear to be a dysfunctional City Hall-managed waste disposal regime.

Interestingly the advent of the Chinese merchants and the attendant ramped up volumes of urban trading may even have served to trigger higher volumes of pavement vending arising out of the opportunities that huge volumes of Chinese imports have created for small retail vendors. In that sense and in that sense only there appears to be a settled regimen to high street trading. Settled, however, should not be taken to mean a sense of good order. As expectations of the capital change against the backdrop of highly anticipated economic transformation, something, evidently, will have to give.

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