Street traders choose their locations for a variety of reasons and, from the point of view of urban planning, it is important to understand why they choose the sites or locations where they operate their enterprises. The failure of urban planning and management systems to address this has resulted in a haphazard and scattered locational pattern of informal economic units within the urban built environment.
In Ghana, the location and site selection of the street traders is at the core of the accommodation issue. According to Yankson (2000), it is customary to understand this through the application of normative models of industrial location. In light of this, Yankson’s study of Accra (2000), found that a number of factors were identified as influencing the choice of sites by the operators.
The attraction of customers was considered the factor that most influenced site selection. This was followed by the availability of access road and the lack of suitable alternative sites. The least important was the plot allocated by the municipal authority.
The results of Suharto’s study (2004) in Bandung Metropolitan Region in Indonesia revealed that, although street vendors were widespread in many different places, their locations always reflected their reliance on economic activities either located on or affected by the street.
Dewar and Watson (1990) highlighted the sensitivity of market locations to concentrations of pedestrian traffic and they promote a policy of intervention which recognizes that markets operate best around commercial centres, public transport terminal, or other areas with high pedestrian flows.
The framework adopts a perspective on the understanding of poverty and how to intervene to improve the conditions of the poor
Broadly, a Sustainable Livelihood (SL) is a means of living which is resilient to shocks and stress and which does not adversely affect the environment. The ‘livelihoods framework’ aims at understanding and addressing the causes of poverty, the vulnerability of poor people and their multiple and resourceful efforts to survive, based on a mix of strategies (Rakodi, 2002). In this framework, it is essential to consider public space as a physical livelihood asset and identify how it conflicts with other users can be resolved.
The livelihood analysis emphasizes the importance of political institutions and processes in framing the vulnerability context of the poor, official structures and organizations in the government and private sector, and processes defined in laws, policies, culture and institutions (Rakodi, 2002). Anecdotal evidence indicates that the street economy is no longer small-scale or marginal, but is in some cities, a major employment sector catering for diverse and mobile city populations (Brown, 2005).
Resolving The Spatial Problem
The spatial problem is essentially a two-fold problem: providing commercial space for informal traders and finding a means to deal with congestion and environmental externalities associated with the location and activities of informal street trading.
Both parts of the problem as indicated are part of the bigger problem of dearth of commercial space and failed or malfunctioning planning and land-use systems and poor environmental conditions. As a medium to long-term approach, an optimal solution will ensure sound management of the urban built and natural environment without threatening the livelihood alternatives of the urban majority.
The underlying principle is normally to increase the opportunity cost of engaging in uncontrolled street trading by inventing access control devices through which the consumption of public space by traders could be controlled at least, if not eliminated altogether. In different ways, local authorities attempt to assert and exert their regulatory influence as custodians of public space to ensure social order and sound urban environmental management.
Normally, a city applies a multiplicity of regulatory devices simultaneously e.g. a combination of stringent enforcement of bye-laws with permit systems and market construction to accommodate street traders. These measures are categorized for reasons of convenience into two: traditional approaches and emerging innovations.
The traditional approaches include the use of coercive controls, market schemes and permit systems while the emerging innovations comprise strategic shifts in city policy which include permitted trading zones and new systems of managed markets.
Marketplaces built by local governments may be part of a comparatively longer-term alternative to resolving the spatial problem. In principle, a well-resourced market facility presents traders with higher opportunity cost situations of discontinuing their operations in unauthorized public spaces.
While catering to the accommodation needs of street traders, local authorities are also able to ease congestion in areas of previous trader’s concentrations. Market construction, therefore, tends to be the most common approach cities employ to resolve the spatial problem e.g. Lagos, Mexico, Durban and Johannesburg Nairobi and Accra.
This article suggests that trading location is very important to the traders and their operations require such a location that must induce impulse buying and convenience to buyers. It is recommended that street trading areas must be integrated into urban planning schemes to ensure that the activity is accommodated adequately in the urban spatial environment.
Such an approach does not seek to perpetuate the activity but rather attempts to limit its negative and undesirable effects on the urban environment. Street traders are mainly in the active and youthful population group, and the majority of them have either no schooling or only up to basic level education.
This implies that jobs in the formal sector are out of reach for them, and they, invariably, find themselves jobs in the informal sector, such as street trading. Thus, it is necessary for governments to perceive and pursue informal sector jobs as opportunities rather than problems. Programmes should be formulated to provide these youths with employable skills.
There are no planned places for street traders and they are, therefore, located in spaces which are meant for other uses. This results in contestations and conflicts with urban authorities. The challenge for urban managers is how to accommodate competing demands on urban public space, in particular, the need to accommodate essential pedestrian and vehicular movements in areas that have become places of work.
The implication of this is that, unless there is a conscious effort to adequately allocate some urban public space to take care of street trading in a very decent manner, street traders will continue to invade public spaces to the embarrassment of city authorities.