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The paradoxes of informalizing street trade in the Latin American city

By Lissette Aliaga-Linares


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to challenge the default portrayal of street trade as an informal occupation and spatial practice, by examining comparatively the changes in the regulatory frameworks of two politically distinct city administrations in Latin America since the introduction of the informal economy debate. Design/methodology/approach – This paper draws from a comparative case study design to synthesize evidence from historical administrative records, secondary research and materials from a two-year fieldwork carried out in Lima and Bogotá in 2008 and 2009. Findings – The author argues that the incorporation of the informal economy framework into local governments’ policymaking has reframed street trade as a subject of policy. Since the 1970s, the author traces a shift from worker-centered initiatives, through the deregulation of street trade, to entrepreneurial-centered approaches. Nowadays, both, Lima’s neoliberal governance focusing on “formalizing” and Bogotá’s socialist/progressive governance aiming at “upgrading” street trade respond more explicitly to distinct assessments about the informal economy – legalist and dualist, respectively. Yet, both cities converge in that the closer street trade is perceived as an informal occupation; the more likely policy initiatives decouple the right to work from the right to access public space, spurring more marginal forms of street vending. Originality/value – Even though the informal economy framework has helped to draw attention to important policy issues locally, nationally and internationally, this paper calls for a critical revision of such framing at the local level to allow for inclusive urban governance

Topics: Latin America, Informal economy, Public space, Petty trade, Latin American Languages and Societies
Publisher: DigitalCommons@UNO
Year: 2018
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