Friday, December 23, 2011

The Informal Economy & Urban Space

In the marketplace, the intriguing part for me has been the creative ways that wholesale and retail vendors use as they conduct their business. They work in conditions where resources are not plentiful enough and optimum use must be made of whatever is available bringing down the price of the product to what is "affordable" and taking the profits to a daily income that is “reasonable”.

The urban selling space therefore borrows from the public spaces of the city where no price or a small price can reduce or eliminate the overheads related to rent/ownership of a space. Within this space, there are innovative ways that vendors use on an everyday basis to sell better - a balancing act - to meet the expectations of their customers (who's footpath they borrow), the formal shopowners (who's visibility they infringe upon), the municipal officials (who's planning regulations are not adhered to) and the Police (who's law and order situation is made more complex and therefore can result in an extra cost for the vendor).

This post is about the wholesale tomato market that takes place every day outside the Russell market building at Shivajinagar in Bangalore. It is about 6.30 in the morning and the time of the year is mid November. The stretch of road between the Russell market building and the St.Mary’s Basilica which is the site of the tomato market has groups of vendors, people moving from one group of vendors to another; there are auctions either just completed or on-going; there are several tempos and auto-rickshaws that are picking up the sacks of tomatoes that have been bought and need to be taken away from this site to its next destination in the chain of tomato supply for the city.

It is one of the sites where the Informal economy and the City hold their auctions for agricultural produce and for urban space. Here is where vendors and buyers negotiate a price for a daily commodity such as tomatoes and where vendors and municipal authorities negotiate a price for yet another daily commodity – the urban spaces of the city.

1  The Noronha road, the St.Mary’s Basilica, the Russell market and the rest of the city all come together – a piecing together of urban components that people live in, pray in and do their buying and selling in. 

2  In the Google Earth map of Shivajinagar, the site of the tomato market on Noronha road is highlighted in orange, its edges undefined. One can also see the centrality of the Russell market in the urban fabric of Bangalore. There is the St.Mary’s Basilica at the south end and the Market square at the north end.

3  The Russell market building is almost like the “edge” in a drawing or a map. There is the entire stretch of road which is covered, completely covered with people walking, people transacting business, people loading and unloading the trucks with plastic crates or jute sacks filled with tomatoes. 

4  It’s a morning of good sales for the tomato vendor who occupies a permanent place in a “temporary” location just outside the Russell market building but within its compound walls. 

5  One of the vegetable vendors inside the Russell market, Naseem, points out that the tomato vendors have been doing this business on the streets for many years now and have taken away the business of the vendors who are inside the market building. Some vendors who have shops inside the Russell market, also put up their produce for sale on the streets every morning. “But, we don’t do that” he said. “After all, one has to be a little dignified.”

6  The nature of the urban fabric that surrounds this urban space and its informal economy – a mixed use neighbourhood with commercial and residential interlacing with each other

7  More than anything else, it is this mass of people which seems to be the most predominant element in the urban landscape 

8 There are big players and there are small players – some operate as individual vendors and for some it is a family-operated business with several members participating actively every morning in deciding on the right price in an auction.

9 The sale does not end here. The tomatoes travel to another part of the city on a push cart or a hand cart and enter into yet another piece of negotiation. Now, in another part of the city, that street begins to participate in its own negotiation of urban space for the day.

10  I ask myself as I look at this informal but “everyday” tomato market: All seems to be going on seemlessly. How much change do we want? How much better can our city be? And, how can it be better than what it now is?

This post has featured in the DNA - Daily News & Analysis on Jan 2, 2012 and this is the link at Around the Blog

Read about:
a Street Bazaar & the CITY
a Street corner in Mumbai


Arti said...

The autobiography of a Tomato!!! Loved the images, typical Indian Bazaar, crowded, animated people...

radha said...

To think the tomato on the push cart has endured such a long journey! I wish our markets were more organised and that the middleman made less money and the deserving got more.

Indian Bazaars said...

Arti: I remember suddenly becoming aware whilst visiting the Dadar wholesale flower market in Mumbai that these flowers travelled so much before they reached their end destination. The autobiographical story becomes fun to explore!

Radha: In one morning, I didn't quite grasp how many push carts filled with tomatos left the marketplace, but thought later that it would be nice to have a city map dotted with all the tomato pushcarts that our streets had in one day or other street vendor carts too - a map of the informal economy on push carts, perhaps.