Embracing Street Vending: Lessons from Thailand

There is an incredibly interesting article in the New York Times about an exhibition of “adaptive design solutions” invented by street vendors in Bangkok. Metal clothespins are used to hang dried squid, plastic bags are used instead of plastic cups because they take up less storage space, and natural wrappers like banana leaves are folded into different shapes to indicate different contents without needing labels. Street vendors are estimated to have $1.6 billion in annual sales, and there are 24,000 licensed vendors in all of Thailand, about half of them in Bangkok. The thing that I liked the most about the article was this quote: “Foreign visitors sometimes perceive street vending as a sign of developing world poverty. But Thais view peddling as a chance to be one’s own boss and earn handsomely.”

If only all Indians had the same respectful attitude towards streetvendors here! Street vendors are the subject of loads of regulations, are forced to pay regular bribes to the police, and are commonly blamed for everything from trash on the streets to increased crime. Imagine what would happen if we instead celebrated our street vendors as people who provide a valuable service for consumers, and who work hard to earn a respectable living. Instead of hounding them, we might rather provide them the basic municipal services (waste management, public restrooms and drinking water, street lighting) they need to improve their quality of life.

    • nraman said:

      Hey, you know what I just learned? That the National Street Vendor Policy of India suggests that cities use registration instead of licensing as a method of controlling vending. That seems to make a lot of sense — vendors would only get involved in vending if it was profitable, and if it was profitable that means that there is demand for vending. For once, I agree — why should we get in the way of the market’s ability to regulate itself?

      I saw the street vending brochures on this site: http://urbanomnibus.net/2009/05/making-policy-public-vendor-power/

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