Slums, Street Traders, & Superhighways


Informal City Dialogues is engaging six cities around the world in conversations to imagine a more inclusive and resilient future. Here's a round-up of this week's highlights:

"How a Savings Bank became One Slum’s Line in the Sand” by Sharon Benzoni

Sharon Benzoni reports on how a credit association in the Old Fadama (a.k.a. “Sodom and Gomorrah”) has become the epicenter and energizing force in the community, changing the image of the fabled Accra slum from a “biblical hotbed of crime into a flagship example of grassroots power.” The Ghana Federation of the Urban Poor convenes weekly meetings to provide financial services, along the way organizing the residents to improve the community through self-help and to defend against forced evictions.


“The Middle-Class Vendors Shaking Up Bangkok’s Street Trade” by Witchaya Pruecksamars

Witchaya Pruecksamars interviews a Bangkok street trader with a master’s degree in management from Brunel University in London and finds out why some former white-collar professionals leave their jobs in the formal sector for the life of a street vendor in the informal economy. 


“Why Chennai’s Vendors Prefer the Sidewalk to the Mall” by Jamie Osborne

Chennai has a long history of government attempts to corral unregulated street vendor enterprises. Jamie Osborne highlights the experience of one street vendor and showcases the numerous challenges facing Chennai’s street vendors from changing government regulations that attempt to formalize and limit how and where street vendors set up their businesses.


“Amid Choreographed Chaos, an Aeropostale Knock-off is Born” by Manuel Vigo

Manuel Vigo provides an insider’s look into Gamarra, a dense neighborhood of registered and un-registered shops underpinning Lima’s growing textile (and brand knock-offs) industry. In Gamarra, many entrepreneurs begin their businesses unregistered and illegally, carving out opportunities when those of the formal economy are limited.


“The Pill’s Stealthy Journey Through a Conservative City” by Purple Romero

Although the political debate on contraception in the Philippines is far from resolved, one woman in Manila has been an informal family planner for over thirty years. She distributes birth control pills to “patients”, i.e., family members, friends, and friends of friends who are unable to access formal providers because of stigma, distance, or lack of information.


“A Central Business District Trades its Corporations for Car Washers” by Sam Sturgis

Sam Sturgis reports on the unexpected opportunities made available by Nairobi’s newest infrastructural feat, the eight-lane Thika Superhighway. Modern infrastructure projects have facilitated massive migratory flows. Corporations are taking advantage of the highways to relocate to newly accessible suburbs while the Central Business District in Nairobi’s city center features a denser congregation of informal vendors. 



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Benjamin de la Peña

Benjamin de la Peña is Director of Community and National Strategy at the Knight Foundation. He has extensive expertise in urban planning, change management, leadership development communications and innovation technologies.
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