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From the Firstpost

An interesting article that explores the link between urban planning and women’s safety

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How street vendors and planners can work together

Examples of how an inclusive attitude towards street vendors has dramatically improved lives. This report by Sally Roever is taken from The Global Urbanist. To visit the site go to

Street trade is a significant source of livelihood for the urban working poor. Official statistics show that street vending represents as much as 15 per cent of total urban non-agricultural employment, and as much as 25 per cent of total urban informal employment, in countries worldwide. It is especially significant in many African and Asian cities, where 80 per cent or more of total employment in trade is informal.

Residents of low-income urban areas are critically dependent on street vendors as their only source of low-cost goods in small quantities — particularly fruits and vegetables, other fresh food and basic household goods. Where vendors come together to form street markets, they generate demand for additional services and thus jobs: market porters, night watchmen, and recyclers, to name a few. Contrary to conventional wisdom, street vendors in many cities also pay taxes to local governments in exchange for their use of public space.


Street vending has persisted for centuries all over the world, despite a multitude of efforts to curtail it. Its ease of entry offers an option for generating a subsistence income for many, but its potential as an engine of growth also attracts better-off entrepreneurs who can capitalise on the easy access to consumers that working in the streets provides.

But they don’t just work in any old streets, and there’s the rub: street vendors strategically locate their workplaces in urban areas with steady pedestrian flows, often in central business districts or near crowded transport junctions. In doing so, they rankle big businesses, real estate developers, and other elites who want access to the same space. Overcrowding of vendors in these areas can also exacerbate broader problems in urban governance, such as traffic congestion, solid waste management, and public health risks.

To address these problems, city governments need a way to define and enforce rules governing who gets access to what space at what times. But they won’t get anyone to follow those rules if they aren’t appropriate to the way the city’s retail economy works. And they won’t get buy-in from vendors unless vendors are collectively invited to the policy table, and can find a common voice. The challenge here, however, is that most street vendors are self-employed workers who bear all the risks of doing business individually, and often prioritise securing their own individual space over longer-term collective goals.


There are ways to balance the competing demands of street vendors, formal enterprises, city officials and the general public. Two examples show how it can be done.

In September 2012, India’s Minister of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation introduced the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill in the country’s lower house of Parliament. This historic bill is one of the only efforts in the world to protect street vendors’ rights at the level of national law. The bill follows on a National Policy on Urban Street Vendors, passed in 2004 and revised in 2009.

The national policy, and now the bill, came about after years of struggle on the part of the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) and the Self Employed Women’s Asssociation (SEWA), membership-based organisations who became involved in all stages of policy formulation. In contrast to efforts to manage street vending by making it go away, the bill recognises that street trade is here to stay.

Though it is too early to know how the bill will perform once it is made law, it addresses key points where conflicts between vendors and governments typically arise. The bill, modeled after the policy, defines a registration process for vendors, their rights and obligations to work in authorised vending zones, and a statutory bargaining forum called Town Vending Committees in which vendors are represented through their associations. Notably, the bill also allows for evictions, relocations, and confiscations of merchandise, but defines the conditions under which they may take place. Most significantly, the bill recognises street vending as a right and as an urban poverty alleviation measure, while acknowledging the need for local authorities to regulate it.

In South Africa, Durban’s Warwick Junction is the city’s primary transport junction, serving an estimated 460,000 people and 38,000 vehicles daily. The junction developed as a chaotic, poorly designed market with congestion and over-trading through the early 1990s. After 1997, city officials established a project designed to work with, rather than against, the thousands of informal traders in the area. This inclusive approach coincided with a movement toward stronger membership-based organisations of street traders who were able to serve as negotiating partners with city officials.

The project’s aim was to improve the quality of the urban environment at the junction, with a particular focus on the needs of the urban poor. Its fundamentals were to concentrate on a specific geographic area, to establish inter-departmental coordination within the city government, and to commit to participation and consultation with all stakeholders, including traders. Today, this project is internationally acclaimed as a best practice. Asiye Etafuleni, a local non-profit based at Warwick, continues to support traders in the area and to champion inclusive urban planning and design.


The National Policy in India, and the Warwick project in Durban, have had a considerable impact on urban livelihoods. In Bhubaneswar, India, where the city partnered with member-based organisations to implement the policy, 91 per cent of vendors reported an increase in their income. In Warwick, vendors reported that their incomes had increased by 20 to 200 per cent after the project, and that their legal and physical security had also improved.

The key innovation in both Durban and Bhubaneswar was to recognize that it makes sense to keep street vending in natural market areas of the city. That’s where vendors are going to go anyway. By working with vendors’ organisations to develop sensible rules, city officials can rely on vendors to help make those rules sustainable and end the need for costly punitive actions.

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Medical Emergency of the Urban Poor

by Kalpana Sharma

Explores the impact of poor urban planning on health

A man who works as a driver in Mumbai discovered recently that his wife, who complained of breathlessness, had a heart problem. She has a blocked artery and a faulty heart valve. Like others of his ilk, this man lives in a slum. His salary as a driver is not enough to rent, leave alone buy an apartment anywhere in Mumbai.  So he lives in a “regularized” slum, which cannot be demolished, and which is, ironically, located on the most expensive real estate in Mumbai, in the upscale neighbourhood of Malabar Hill.

This preferred location, however, makes little difference to him when facing a health crisis such as this. The choices before him are stark. If he does nothing, because he cannot afford to get his wife treated, then she will die. If he chooses to get her treated, then he faces lifelong indebtedness.

In a city with some of the most expensive and modern health care facilities, millions of lower income and poor people face the dilemma facing this driver. As opposed to their rural counterparts, even poor people living in cities are well aware of the medical interventions that are possible to prolong life and to deal with life-threatening conditions. But they also know that such interventions are out of their reach in an increasingly privatized health care market. The public health care systems that exist are simply not enough to meet the demand even for ordinary health conditions leave alone for specialized care.

Mumbai is actually better served than most other Indian cities with public health facilities. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) runs four teaching hospitals, five specialized hospitals, 16 peripheral hospitals, 28 maternity homes and several hundred dispensaries and health outposts. Out of the estimated 40,000 hospital beds available in Mumbai, around a quarter come under the BMC. In addition the state government runs one medical college, three general hospitals and two health units with a total of 2,871 beds. The Central government also runs one hospital.

Yet, despite the availability of these services, people who cannot afford to spend on private health care still do not necessarily see public services as the first choice. Several studies have shown that as many as 77% . in urban areas and 63%. in rural areas turn to private practitioners for outpatient care because the public facilities are either too far, or their procedures are too bureaucratic and take too long to access. Even amongst poor people who cannot afford private care, the percentage of those who use it is over 60%.

However, for in-patient care, the poor seek out public facilities, even if they are at some distance from where they live, because they are the only ones that are affordable. However, it is evident that these are inadequate to meet the demand. The overcrowding seen in every public hospital is a stark reminder of the shortage of affordable beds in a city where the majority of people cannot afford expensive health care. Furthermore, the big hospitals in Mumbai serve as referrals for people from across the state and other states.

Access to health care, however, is only one part of the larger story of health status of the urban poor, one of several hidden developmental crises. Compared to their rural counterparts, poor people living in cities should be better  off. There are many more hospitals, many more doctors, running water that is reasonably potable, sanitation that is passable, electricity and public transport. Even the poorest can earn something in a city like Mumbai.

What is forgotten is that even if they do not suffer income poverty to the extent that people do in rural areas, the urban poor face other forms. of deprivation that have a direct impact on their health. As most of the urban poor live in congested localities, often in flood prone areas, they are the first to succumb to water-borne diseases like typhoid and gastroenteritis. Every monsoon, the first cases of vector borne diseases like malaria and dengue are almost always reported from slum areas. Crowding and living in poorly ventilated dwellings also ensures the spread of communicable disease like tuberculosis. According to the latest data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), the prevalence of medically treated TB is much higher in Mumbai than in urban Maharashtra (590 vs. 367 per 100,000). Also, predictably, within Mumbai, it is much higher among slum-dwellers than non-slum dwellers (690 vs. 458 per 100,000).

The most telling comment on the health status of the urban poor is the nutritional status of children born and brought up in poor settlements. NFHS-3 has come up with disturbing data on the levels of malnutrition and under-nutrition amongst urban children. This data is indicative not just of levels of poverty, where families cannot afford to feed their children, but the prevalence of diseases, including repeated bouts of diarrhoea, which render children weak and unable to absorb even the little nutrition they do receive.

NFHS-3 shows that there is chronic undernourishment in 42%.of children in urban areas in Maharashtra, a state that is wealthier than India as a whole according to the wealth index used in NFHS. The survey found that 29%.of children in urban areas in Maharashtra are stunted (too short for their age), an indication of undernourishment over a period of time, 11%.are wasted (too thin for their height) indicating inadequate food intake or a recent illness and 21% are underweight, signs of chronic and acute under-nutrition.

In the context of Maharashtra, Mumbai is important for a number of reasons. 29% of the urban population of Maharashtra lives in Mumbai, the wealthiest city in the state. Yet according to NFHS-3, the nutritional status of children under five years in Mumbai was slightly worse than in urban Maharashtra as a whole. The survey also found that the nutrition status of children under five living in slums was substantially worse than those living in non-slum areas. For instance, while 47 %. of children living in slums were stunted, the percentage in non-slum areas was 42%. Similarly while 36%.of children in slums were underweight, 26%.of their counterparts in non-slum areas were the same.

What is happening to the urban poor is a story not just of income poverty but many other forms of deprivation. People come to cities in search of a better future. But the absence of living. conditions that are conducive to healthy living is actually rendering these people worse off than if they had stayed behind in their villages.

Kalpana Sharma is a Mumbai-based independent journalist and columnist. This is an extract from an earlier piece published in the Mumbai Reader 2008.