Beyond state regulation of informality: understanding access to public space by street vendors in Bogotá

Selling goods and providing services in public spaces is one of the most accessible occupations for many urban poor. However, use of public space for such occupations is often prohibited by local regulations, excluding street vendors from legally using this space for their survival. While significant research has been devoted to state efforts to control informality, less is known about the everyday governance of street vendors. This article examines how unorganised street vendors regulate access to public space among themselves. We also analyse the contestation and negotiations between state and street vendors. The article is based on a study of street vendors in Bogotá, Colombia. We argue that informal street vendors do not operate in chaos, instead the ‘quiet encroachment’ of public space is governed by nonhierachical informal social control mechanisms. Our findings call for a reconsideration of regulations about urban informal activities and public spaces.

Some Key Points for Local Governments:

  • Local governments should change the focus of their policies from eradication to inclusion of street vendors.
  • Any policy should depart from a deep understanding of the socio-economic conditions that push thousands of urban dwellers to the streets in search of a living.
  • This article suggest that planning processes should support the survival efforts of the poor and vulnerable groups, rather than using state control that hinders and excludes these groups.

This article concludes that in an ever more urbanised world in which informal jobs, like street vending are one of the few forms of survival for vulnerable groups, alternatives forms of self-regulation are needed to generate a more inclusive and realistic mode of urban planning.

Published by: International Development Planning Review. 41 (1): 85–105.