The global economic crisis brings into sharp relief the crucial role of the urban informal economy as a refuge for the working poor and major component of city economies. In many cities of the global south, informal employment now provides 60-80 per cent of urban jobs. Street trade is one of the informal economy's largest, most visible and contested domains. Legislation covering street trade is complex, poorly documented and erratically applied, and many traders face constant risk of devastating and unpredictable evictions.
The research aims to explore the fragmented and plural regulatory environment facing street traders, and conflicts between formal and informal regulatory systems that deepen vulnerabilities for the working poor, especially in contexts of economic turmoil.
The research draws on three core academic debates: the role of law in urban development; the paradigm of legal empowerment of the poor, and the potential of rights-based approaches in supporting fragile urban livelihoods.
Case studies in four cities with different legal traditions, Dar es Salaam, Ahmedabad, Durban and Dakar, draw on extensive interviews with street traders, local authority officials and others. Researchers will work with street trader organisations to ensure that outputs contribute to improved policy development and support informal economy livelihoods.