Contradictions of Neoliberal Planning: Cities, Policies, and Politics

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Picture 4: Fleeing a crackdown in Nairobi: running away from City County Enforcement Department vehicle with all possible speed.

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Forced evictions of street traders, running battles with city authorities and the extortion racket is a common occurrence in Nairobi City. This highlights a paradoxical aspect of street trading: repressive policies against street trading increase the informality of street vending.

Therefore, the State plays a role in the development of the informal economy. Yet, depending on their specific contexts, large numbers of street traders are members of organized groups that negotiate with urban authorities on a varying basis. For instance, there are many street trader associations, often in the form of self-help groups, as well as advocates for the rights of street traders Brown and Lyons Street vending activities further encompass several internal organizational and operational rules to which street vendors adhere, including the areas of operation, membership in vendor associations, the times of operation, and the tools of trade.

Additionally, there is high demand for trading space along these streets leading to competition among the street vendors. For example, Linda, a street vendor in Congo Street, in Dar es Salaam, started as a mobile trader — machinga — by selling plastic bags Racaud and Raphael With time, he obtained access to a trading space along Congo Street, which he uses as his base of operation.

According to Linda, getting an operating space has become very difficult due to congestion. The professional trajectory for new street traders is likely to be as follows: they start as mobile hawkers, moving around with their goods along the streets. With time, they occupy negotiated spaces left behind by street traders leaving the business or those who have moved to other locations. The established street traders know the specific locations where each trader operates from, creating a sense of ownership of the street space shared between them.

Moreover, whereas street vendors occupy public spaces on a temporary basis, some of them have operated in these spaces for decades. For example, Linda started his business in Congo Street in This shows that street trading is not a temporary business activity because he has worked as a street vendor in the same place for about 30 years.

Linda, along with other street traders, embodies the long-term vulnerability of the informal economy as investigated in a number of empirical studies gathered in this themed issue. Traders therefore compete for access to a trading place in a context where street trading is growing as a result of the globalization of exchanges and consumption, in the North as well as in the South Monnet Streets combine the functions of traffic flows and commercial activities with housing as provided by the surrounding buildings. This combination of several functions can result in conflicts, particularly if space is scarce, leading to increases in value functional and symbolic.

Indeed, conflicts can occur between city authorities involved in regulation of trade and space generally inspired by modern planning and street traders, between formal traders shop owners and street traders, and also between street traders themselves as their numbers increase Benjamin et al. The growth of competition in street trading translates into greater tension around access and usage of space in these streets, especially in the most strategic locations such as the CBD or close to transport nodes with high volumes of pedestrian traffic.

One can link these movements with the right to the city approach Lefebvre [], Mitchell , Samara et al. The right to the city constitutes a framework for the re-enunciation of development issues such as access to urban services Morange and Spire 2. The Habitat III Conference held in emphasized the right to the city as a new paradigm for urban development. Together with the International Labour Organisation, these networks campaign for a more inclusive and integrated approach to street trading.

The rivalries of power and leadership competitions are addressed in several papers of the themed issue see, for example, Bouhali , Racaud , Sales , Spire and Choplin The initial question of the project was: How can street vending, an individual and a collective resource, be integrated into the urban governance? This question came about because in the City of Nairobi, street traders faced ongoing harassment by the enforcement authorities, although the sector provides jobs and daily income for a large part of the urban population. The project organized two forums in Kenya Kisumu and Nairobi and an international scientific conference.

Their objectives were, first, to share and to reflect on various representations and practices from different kinds of stakeholders, and, second, to develop a common point of view in regard to street vending by considering it not as an urban problem, but as an activity that can be integrated into the socio-economic fabric of the city. Above all, the participants sought to address the gap between the socio-economic legitimacy and the political recognition.

Street trade governance involves power relations, solidarity practices and fluctuating convergences of interests that fit into specific contexts. In many case studies presented in this issue, street vending continues to operate within an ambiguous institutional framework resulting in a regime of uncertainty.

The paradox of street trade, that is, the weak political legitimacy of a major urban socio-economic activity, enables us to read the contradictory aspects of street vending governance and of its more or less conflicting integration into urban politics. Ilda Lindell as well as Alison Brown and Peter Mackie support their argument by literature and extensive research in several urban contexts in Africa.


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The articles brought together in this issue illustrate in detail that urban deadlock particularly the lack of employment , unclear legal and institutional frameworks, and a hostile operating environment are drivers of conflictual uses of public space, such as streets that are partially fragmented and privatized by traders. In this multidisciplinary collection most of the articles originate in field-based empirical studies, mainly from geographers but also from anthropologists and scholars working in the field of development studies, with a bias towards qualitative approaches that favor comprehensive reasoning.

Furthermore, this issue blends and puts into perspective both Francophone and Anglophone literature. Whereas most of the case studies are situated in sub-Saharan Africa, three articles contribute to perspectives from Northern Africa and India. The legal and institutional frameworks and the local arena of power may be the major factors of differentiation between these case studies.

She demonstrates factors that deter the informal traders from seeking to regularize their business activities due to limitations on financing and flexibility in the use of street space. Formal businesses require a permanent structure to be licensed, which would involve greater expenses to street vendors in terms of rent and other fees. She indicates that by equating legality with regularization, the regulations turn the use of public space by unlicensed street traders into a criminal offence.

Steiler also highlights how the varying oscillations in the interpretation and application of laws on the use of public space and the regulation of street vending depend on the political situation and the perceptions of government and city officials. The paper demonstrates the lack of clear guidelines in the regulation of street vending.

As for Dar es Salaam, a clear definition of a street vendor is lacking. In this case, the city permits the registration of semi-permanent informal sector traders and charges the informal traders daily fees. The paper additionally outlines the lack of coherence between national and local policies in regard to street vending. Racaud further highlights the contradiction of using street space, which is a public good, for private activities. The contestation and competitive use of public space by diverse actors creates the potential for conflict between street vendors and the city authorities and passers-by on the one hand, and among the street vendors themselves on the other.

Joshi demonstrates that by institutionalizing a right to vend, the campaign that led to the bill has created new possibilities for vendors to negotiate with the state at all levels. He demonstrates the potential of street vendors to advocate for their rights and push for progressive national policies. Joshi additionally outlines the levels of political negotiation, both at the local level with the police and municipal workers characterized by extortion and bribery , and at the national level, through the street vendor associations pushing for reforms in the sector.

She also highlights the influence of politics in the governance of street vending, as when in the run-up to elections, harassment of street vendors is suspended, while politicians promise reforms to street vending which are never implemented. The authors tackle the political conflicts and clientelist relations in the competition for leadership in a new public market in Accra that accommodates former street traders. They highlight the tensions and coping strategies of the street vendors as they are relocated to the Odorna market, and additionally the reconfiguration of the power relationships between vendors, city dwellers and urban authorities.

The paper analyzes the unsettled and often tense relationships between street vendors and urban authorities in their struggle for control of public space and, through it, the control of the city at large. She examines the different forms of law at work in the streets of Mumbai, i. The findings show that the nature of street vending in terms of the spatial dispersion of workers and their varying degrees of mobility constitutes one of the key challenges in forming street vendor associations and ensuring continuing participation by members. The authors use three axes: the colonial legacy and politics across borders, the politics of repression and accommodation, and the political voice, to examine the influence of politics in street vending.

The authors note that political structures and power vary over time, which partly explains the tenuous and short-lived nature of the more lenient governance approaches towards street traders. Colonial legacy and the post-colonial evolution of governance and power have significant and lasting impacts on urban street trade, both on trade networks and legal urban frameworks and practices. The authors highlight that street vendors have the potential for political negotiation through improved strategies of organization and representation.

Public policies are ambivalent and generally influenced by a neoliberal ideology, for instance, in giving the private sector street vendors a leading role in street regulation. The private sector is also heterogeneous and the class of street traders is not uniform; in some cases, street traders are divided through their competition for leadership.

In addition, contradictions and unclear legal frameworks allow room for more inconspicuous strategies in the search for access and control parts of public spaces. The ambiguities in legal and institutional frameworks are sometimes exploited as a resource by actors in key positions, particularly those acting as an interface between street traders and the city authorities. In other words, whilst street vendors take advantage of the weak legal and institutional environment to negotiate their place and presence in public spaces, law enforcers take advantage of these loopholes to extort and take bribes from the street vendors.

This may appear as a paradox: the claims by private actors for public space can be interpreted as demands for the privatization of public space although the latter is represented as a limited common good. The politics of street trader organisations in inner city Johannesburg, post-Operation Clean Sweep.

Third World Quarterly 37 6 : Informal economy and the World Bank. Policy Research Working Paper No. WPS Bouhali A. Bromley R. Street vending and public policy: a global review.

Contradictions of neoliberal planning: cities, policies, and politics | Reading lists @ LSE

Brown A, Lyons M. Seen but not heard: urban voices and citizenship for street traders, in Lindell I. African Informal Workers. London, Zed Books: Brown A, Mackie P. Politics and street trading in Africa: developing a comparative frame. Castells M, Portes A. The Informal Economy. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press: Charmes J. World Development Report Background Papers. Washington DC, World Bank. The informal economy worldwide: trends and characteristics. Editorial: urban livelihoods: reframing theory and policy.

Environment and Urbanization 28 2 : Dragsted-Mutengwa B. Gadrey J, Jany-Catrice F. Government of the Republic of Kenya.

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Kenya Vision Nairobi, Government of the Republic of Kenya. Economic Survey Hugon P. International Labour Organization. Women and men in the informal economy: a statistical picture. Geneva, International Labour Office. Joshi K. Hawkers in the streets and the courts of contemporary India.

Kamete AY. Pernicious assimilation: reframing the integration of the urban informal economy. Southern Africa. Urban Geography 39 2 : Lautier B. Lefebvre H. Such discursive and symbolic representations indicate an effort to treat cities as enterprises to be governed and marketed. As phenomena to be understood in light of the escalating crisis of neoliberalism, the emerging design practices in question have until now been almost exclusively top-down strategies to further control and commercialize urban spaces.

They developed effective tools for the production of space, capable of being employed more rapidly, flexibly, and openly, and with greater attention to detail than urban planning and architecture. The proliferation of visual-communications strategies in urban spaces is both a characteristic of the neoliberal city as well as a set of potential tools with which to transcend it. The crisis of the contemporary city can no longer be handled only with the classic tools of large-scale top-down planning. Social-spatial practices are too complex and heterogeneous for that, too dynamic and contradictory.

Not to plan, however—a Darwinist demand that people take care of themselves; the fittest urban players thrive unchecked—is to abandon too easily the project of design. And yet new design for the city is urgently needed: for, by its very nature, a city cannot be anything but designed. It is socially produced. Would it be destined to be merely an element in the commodified colonization of social spaces, or could it be a strategic tool with a political and social character that can make an essential contribution to a social city?

Or are graphic design and the visual representation of urban issues themselves the key means by which alternative or utopian spaces may be created upon the ideological ruins of existing cities? If design is to transcend its complacent function as a tool of urbanization in the service of private interests, the intentions of designers, as well as the potential of critical action beyond economic considerations, must be considered.

They argue vigorously in terms of market-alignment and reflect a consumer-oriented or individualist approach, with the result that urban or social objectives—and hence also any design-political dimensions—remain off the map. In order to deal productively with this dilemma, one must necessarily challenge the self-image of the design profession. How do protagonists see themselves, and who commissions their work?

What alliances are worth striving for and what role should the public and the users play? When it comes to a design for the city, which strategies, procedures, and perspectives do we need? The individualization of consumption and the creation of niche markets lead to an incessant re profiling of products. Davis focuses on the town: even as rapidly progressing worldwide urbanization has to be seen as one of the primary causes of these problematic developments, it can also suggest a way toward their solution.

He confronts the very realistic scenario of segregated zones of abundance in an otherwise economically and ecologically disastrous environment with his ideal picture of the city. In an updating of the Utopian-ecological urban criticism of the socialists and anarchists of the early twentieth century and the social experiments of the early modern age in particular those of the socialist town concepts of the Soviet Constructivists lies for him a starting point from which to invent cities based on democratic communal thinking.

The environmental efficiency of urban density and the necessity of efficient collectivity in urban systems form the alternative to the dominant suburban-sprawl paradigm and its negative ecological and social effects. Davis sees a close connection between social responsibility and environmental responsibility, between municipal disposition and an ecological urbanism, and connects social and economic issues with pressing environmental problems.

An environmentally friendly town would hence be based on relatively few new technologies of ecological town planning and prioritize general prosperity and generosity over privately accumulated wealth. The collective character of a town and its infrastructure offer the potential for overcoming the looming social and ecological disaster. Whether pessimistically or optimistically, it is at least interesting to note that design is again on the agenda in urban and political theory.

All of them could be considered as having in mind a kind of proto-design, producing fewer solutions and new problems , but also social situations and processes enabling social imagination, debate, and conflict. What such a political approach to design might look like is indicated by Gui Bonsiepe, who taught at the Ulm School of Design and currently works in Argentina as a designer and theorist. The places and zones of actual contradictions are for Bonsiepe the starting points for Utopian-formative interventions.

To name and articulate such conflicts and their intentional transformation is to act on the assumption that design has a social relation that aims less at the solution of problems than the critical handling and thematization of social relations and disavowals. Jesko Fezer renegotiates the traditional media of architecture as a publisher, curator, artist, and exhibition designer.

Click to start a discussion of the article above. DuMont Schauberg, Subscription pending. Your email subscription is almost complete. An email has been sent to the email address you entered. In this email is a confirmation link.

Please click on this link to confirm your subscription. Journal Mayday Berlin is an alliance of local political and social activist initiatives. It is part of the International EuroMayDay network, a web of media activists, labor organizers, migrant collectives convening each year in a different European city. Since , it organizes a transnational demonstration of precarious and migrant workers held on May 1st in more than a dozen European cities. After a group of artists developed animated reinterpretation of these designs the campaign became the center of a huge controversy.

Todaysart director Olof van Winden was arrested by secret service agents, detained for a day and charged with instigating terrorism.

Neoliberalism and the City

A public discussion evolved immediately online, in newspapers, on the radio, through local politics, official petitions and eventually inquiries to the Dutch parliament, demanding an explanation. The City Belongs to Everyone! Download PDF. Marion von Osten. A number of alternate, informal approaches to art and economy that arose in the Berlin of the 90s created a great deal of space and potential for rethinking relations between people, as well as possible roles for art in society. An Architektur. First of all, the term came up in relation to land enclosures during pre- or early capitalism in England; second, in relation to the Italian autonomia movement of the s; and third, today, in the context of file-sharing networks, but also increasingly in the alter-globalization movement.

Could you tell us more about your interest in the commons? Massimo De Angelis: My interest in the commons is