Editorial | City planners, think again!
The plight of the Constant Spring Market vendors has forced us to think once more about the top-down development strategy that is a common feature of the management of our cities and towns.
About 70 vendors who, in all likelihood, are breadwinners of their families, must vacate the premises in a month, with no clear alternative as to where they will be allowed to continue their economic activity. For some of these vendors, this has been their place of work for 40 years.
Faced with the prospect of unemployment, many persons, the majority of them women, have organised themselves into informal economic units of vendors, and they have been making a steady income in the various markets and shopping areas across the country.
We understand that in the name of development, the market has to be closed. Relocation always presents with difficulty, and negotiations can be tough. In order for both sides to feel that justice has been done, there has to be accommodation and compromise. Based on the utterances coming from some of the vendors, they do not feel that justice is currently on their side.
The truth is that vendors are not often factored into the country's economic calculations despite the fact that their informal activities affect thousands of dependents, including those who supply them with produce and goods and the customers who have come to rely on their service.
Sadly, in this case, no provision has been made for even temporary relocation or indeed for any kind of compensation. This has left some vendors in a state of great despair.
A properly planned project would have come with an alternative location, one that was designed to take into account modern demands, including bathroom facilities, cold storage, food preparation, Wi-Fi, etc.
We feel that there is a moral obligation on the part of the authorities to make things right with the vendors.
Some people may take the position that the vendors were made aware of the impending closure to facilitate road expansion. And that may be true. However, we feel that if relocation is mandatory, there should be clearly defined alternatives to minimise the impact, and this should come about with input from the vendors and business operators in the area.
In the top-down manner to which we referred at the beginning, we anticipate that come October 1, the security forces will be deployed in their numbers to ensure that all vending activity at Constant Spring Market comes to an end.
We hope it will not come to this. Though late in the day, we believe that the parties can find some accommodation based on dialogue and negotiation.
Bring vendors into fold
We urge the authorities not to shut out the vendors, but bring them into the fold of small business entrepreneurs and perhaps assist them in advertising their new location in an innovative marketing campaign.
If the planning authorities are bereft of ideas, they could draw some inspiration from, say, Loshusan in Barbican, where the developers worked out an accommodation with the vendors. We are not aware of the details of that arrangement, but the vendors and the supermarket peacefully coexist, even competing on some of the items being offered.
Vendors are an important part of the fabric of city life, and they contribute to the rich tapestry and animation of the capital. The official vision of planning cannot ignore this reality.