Informal cities and the contestation of public space: The case of Bogota's street vendors, 1988–2003

Donovan, M. G.

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Donovan, M. G. (2008). Informal cities and the contestation of public space: The case of Bogotá's street vendors, 1988–2003. Urban Studies, 45(1), 29–51.

The resurgence of informal street trading poses serious challenges for local officials responsible for the maintenance of public space. This article contextualises the tension between public space recuperation and informality, providing a detailed case study of Bogotá, Colombia (population 7.6 million). From 1988 to 2003, Bogotá's mayors implemented one of the most ambitious public space campaigns in Latin America. The 'tipping-points' behind Bogotá's transition are illuminated with emphasis on the introduction of free mayoral elections and the enervation of informal vendor unions. Using a cohort panel design, this research also examines the working conditions and occupational hazards faced by vendors both before and after relocation to government-built markets. It reveals how formalised vendors experienced declining income levels, but improved working conditions. The final section examines public policy implications and the extent to which Bogotá's experience follows traditional models of public space planning in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Main finding
In an effort to display control of the economy, Bogotá relocated street vendors to municipally established malls. On the one hand, this formalization of street vending by the government underestimated the positive aspects of informal economic exchange—flexibility, mobility, and convenience—which is why informal street vending still occurs. On the other hand, many vendors did comply with relocation in order to obtain greater safety and improved workplace conditions, despite the fact that it led to a decrease in income.

Description of method used in the article
The author conducted survey interviews with 210 semi-stationary vendors on eight major thoroughfares in the Santa Fé and Chapinero localities within Bogotá, and questionnaires with 177 relocated vendors among 9 different government operated markets between 1988 and 2000.

Policy implications

Organising categories

Economic Transactions
Urban Planning
Physical types
Markets Streets
Geographic locations