FUTURE CAPE TOWN | Will ideas competition improve informal trading conditions?

“I’m happy I’m in a shop I can close up and go, I can lock up and go …but uh, it’s not what I wanted”

The City of Cape Town has launched a global ideas competition to improve the conditions and opportunities for the informal trading sector in Cape Town.

 Also read: Why informal traders should matter to a global city

This week the City of Cape Town’s issued a media release about an exciting challenge to improve informal trading in the city. The challenge, launched by the Department of Economic Development, calls for “innovative solutions to enhance and strengthen the informal trading sector”  and the many problems street trading faces in Cape Town. The call encourages a broad and creative range of ideas including proposals to improve infrastructure, site management and customer experience. Informal trade is a meaningful contributor to the life of the city – 12% of Cape Town’s economy to be exact – and the city’s challenge to enhance informal trade should be welcomed as an opportunity for economic growth as well as to improve the livelihoods of vulnerable individuals. 

In numbers

  • 4000: number of informal trading business sites managed
  • 12%: % contribution by informal trading to Cape Town’s economy
  • 18%: % of Cape Town’s economically active residents employed
  • 2497: number of trading sites registered on City of Cape Town e-permit system

In partnership with  Citymart , a global organisation connecting innovative civic engagement and government processes, the challenge has the potential for partnership with other cities to expose traders to worldwide best practice.  The call for residents to find solutions for street traders’ problems is applauded as a means to raise awareness of the issues surrounding informal trade and improve infurstructure affecting the livehoods of vulnerable individuals. Amidst the excitement around the  civic participation opportunities and innovative solutions, some concerns might surface.

According to the media release, where possible, the City of Cape Town provides trading infrastructure such as hard-surfaced areas, fixed trading stands, or roof structures and in some instances ancillary services like access to water and/or an electricity supply to various sites. However, in many cases, the infrastructure that is provided by the City can be improved.

 Mostly, I wonder who will name the problems that we must find solutions for? For this challenge to have meaningful impact, it needs to speak to the very real barriers street traders face daily. For example, during the 2010 Fifa World Cup, efforts to improve aesthetic appeal and solve storage problems for traders on the Cape Town Station deck negatively impacted their businesses.

I’m happy I’m in a shop I can close up and go, I can lock up and go …but uh, it’s not what I wanted

Traders explained how the containers made it difficult for potential customers to see what was on offer causing fewer customers to enter their stalls and significantly reducing sales. The layout of containers placed a few traders along the crucial stream of foot traffic to and from the taxi rank, leaving the majority of the stalls in the quiet and empty rows beyond.

While the people they came from there [the deck entrance] they see, ‘ Ok, that lady’s selling cap, scarf’ -they see everything. But now they put eh business in the container, the people they don’t have those patience

As the City acknowledges in the media release, aspects of informal trade and the surrounding infrastructure could use improvement, but could we be missing out on an important opportunity to collaborate with street traders on identifying the improvements needed? With the information around the competition being disseminated through the Citymart website, I wonder how street traders might come to know about the call for proposals? How well will the citizens accessing Citymart.com on their smartphones and laptops understand the problems threatening the day-to-day survival of street traders and their households?

3 challenges facing informal traders

1. Infrastructure and planning

Consistency in trading location is economically significant, as returning patronage is a large portion of any trader’s clientele. 

2. Government policy and practice

A commonly discussed outcome of informal sector regulation is that it provides a framework but often does not allow access to and leverage of that framework by the participants themselves. Additionally, regulation can hamper the dynamism and flexibility that allows certain informal economic activity to exist.

3. Economic Variables

Traders are expected to pay levies and fees for various administration processes, which are ultimately related to the use of public space and amenities. 

Read the full article: 3 challenges for informal traders

‘Through this call, the City hopes to rejuvenate informal trading, by soliciting input from the public which could provide possible solutions to the challenges or problems that the informal trading sector is facing.”

– Mayoral Committee Member for Tourism, Events and Economic Development, Councillor Garreth Bloor

While the city does encourage informal traders without access to smartphones to make use of SmartCape internet access at libraries, we would do well to take greater strides to ensure the important contribution of street traders in this opportunity.

Once the submissions have been received, the City’s jurors will choose viable solutions to help strengthen its approach to informal trading through knowledge sharing, a pilot project, or a demonstration of the impact of the winning solution in the cityWill we see informal traders on the panel of jurors, or collaboration between citizens and traders in proposals? Will informal traders have a say on the innovations that they believe might positively affect their businesses?

We look forward to seeing the process unfold between the launch and the deadline in April.

Visit http://my.citymart.com/Call/CoCT_economic_innovation to submit solutions. The deadline is 16 April 2015.

About Sharyn Sassen

I'm a City dwelling occupational therapist with a vision for justice and well-being in the everyday things that people do and the spaces they live, work and play in. Also, more coffee please.