Effects of Street Trading on Urban Environmental Area

Street trading poses major socio-economic and environmental dangers becoming the refuge for the unskilled and unemployed that with the objectives of becoming part of the global community, the needs of these marginalized citizens are often overlooked, in favour of strategies and policies that will attract private international investments into cities, investments which will presumably promote economic growth. Hence street trading has come to be viewed as an unwanted impediment to progressive world-class cities, leading street traders to operate on the fringes of the law and society (Crossa, 2000).

Street trading or informal sector plays a great role in the distribution of goods and services of many cities/town of the world and has been defined by scholars based on their perspectives, the streets traders are those people who offer goods and services for sale on the primary cross a streets or pavement. Street trading as a form of squatting; it involves perpetual displaying of goods along roadsides which may occur within established market places or outside, the intersection of major roads.

Street Trading - Effects of Street Trading on Urban Environmental Area

In the same view, Ouwamanam MAc, et al (2007) defined street trading as the act of engaging commercial activities in illegal structures or open spaces (ground) within the building line. Accordingly, a building line is a line set parallel to the centre line of a road within which no building or structure, permanent or temporally is permitted to be erected by the local planning authorities. The informal economic activity being an umbrella of street trading activities has been a subject of controversy.

There is hardly any unique universally accepted definition of the sector because the classification of activities is a subjective and qualitative judgment. However, there are some common indicators in most definition namely unregistered enterprise, those without a permit, or license, and other vices.

Street or roadside trading is a characteristic of most urban centres of developing countries like Nigeria. Majority of the traders are migrants to cities with low educational level, and street trading for them represent a desperate means of survival when the hopes of getting a white-collar job which brought them from the rural areas have been delayed or dashed completely

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The causes of street trading 

As a phenomenon, it has attracted scholars and researchers to its domain. The causes of street trading are attributed to low educational level or illiteracy, low involvement of capital. Unemployment is another contributing factor and most people are engaged in such activities since formal employment opportunities are no more abundantly available Olanipekun J.A, et al. (2007). The range of activities in the urban street economy is vast and some authors have attempted to categorize them.

In 2004, Suharto attempts an all-encompassing, three categories classification. He outlines the main spheres of the selling of food, trading in goods and offering of services. By his taxonomy, food vendors sell food staples, prepare and or sell meals and drinks and a range of edibles; they also sell cigarettes, candies etc.

  • Goods vendors sell personal effects (e.g. shirts, spectacles etc.), basic commodities (e.g. toothpaste, toilet effects (e.g. buckets, saucepans etc. soaps, etc), and household).
  • Service vendors range from creative services such as shoe shining, haircutting, tailoring, to repair services such as repair of shoes, watches and clocks, keys, bicycles, electrical devices, umbrellas and home appliances (Suharto 2004).

However, this taxonomy is not exhaustive since the activities are vast and the list is almost endless. For instance, Yankson (2000a; 2000b) identifies other activities such as petty commodity production, e.g. smallscale manufacturing and handicrafts enterprises. The list goes on to further include several other important segments such as water distribution, ‘bush’ garages, private waste collectors etc. (Brown 1996). Street trading activities present three major challenges to local authorities, which altogether compose a spatial problem.

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The first part of the problem is the fundamental challenge facing local authorities in accommodating street traders on the urban landscape. City authorities face critical choices of reclaiming urban public space through the provision of trading space alternatives e.g. markets or by devising forms of ‘excludability’ to manage public space and avert congestion problems. While apparently simple and straightforward in principle, very much the contrary prevails in practice.

The second part of the spatial problem comprises the environmental spillovers that arise either by virtue of the sheer location of street trading units or as a result of their activities in urban space. Mainly, these relate to urban public space b common resource.

Hence, the being a congestible public good or occurrence of street trading activities across cities and towns tends to engender crucial spatial problems for cities and towns in areas where the intensity of informal activity approaches conge stable levels with pertinent higher degree externalities.

This article provides ample evidence that the spatial location of informal activity presents challenges for urban environmental management, planning and administration. By their location decisions, street traders transform streets, pavements and other public and private spaces into arenas for commercial transactions, which effectively create congestion problems (Suharto 2004).

Street Traders - Effects of Street Trading on Urban Environmental Area

Some relevant literature almost unanimously records impediments to free flow of traffic, both pedestrian and motorized, worsening problems of already congested transportation networks in cities. Further, the location of street trading units upsets existing planning frameworks and defeats the planned role of streets and relevant public spaces within which they occur.

Hence, in many developing cities, the spatial problem has elicited much attention from business elites, local government, urban planners and civil society (Jimu 2005). Even De Soto (1989), who justifies the existence and presence of street vendors and other informal actors, concedes the indiscriminate occupation of public space in defiance of formal planning and land use arrangements and with little regard for their intrinsic beauty and suitability. 

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Other authors observe problems of zoning and land-use conflicts and the generation of haphazard urban development created through the concentration of unauthorized street enterprises that mix with other standard land uses. some of the common approaches that cities have taken in attempting to regulate street trading have included relocating street traders into so-called formalized environments.

This norm has left little room to understand why street trading activities still persist outside so-called formalized environments, as the norm seems to lean towards even stricter policies, by-laws and even harsher penalties for those street traders operating on the fringes of the law (Moshoana, 2009). 

Unmanaged street trading activities are seen to have led to a degradation of urban public spaces within cities (Ayeh, 2011). In an attempt to address the latter amongst many other issues related to street trading activities in public spaces, aggressive approaches such as evicting street traders from the public realm are being taken by most city authorities.

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About the author

I am Adegboyega Tunde Temitayo. A registered Town Planner with the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners (NITP) and Town Planners Registration Council (TOPREC).

I love to think differently and possibly on various Urban and Regional Planning issues to proffer solutions to Urban and Rural Environmental Problems. You can subscribe to my YouTube Channel

As the Chief Editor of Town Planners Diary, I humbly welcome you to this platform which is about enhancing Planning Education through research on various Town Planning and Environmental issues.

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