Lisette Villacres and Sara Geenen
Discussion paper 2020.02
Urban renewal policies that aim to “beautify” public space have had unequal impacts, particularly in terms of restricting access to public space for some groups considered to be “undesirable” in the new urban landscape. This paper concentrates on one such group, informal street vendors, who rely on access to the streets for generating an income, and who have been banned or in any case restricted from doing so. In several Latin American cities, street vending is a very important part of the informal economy. We present the case of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s second most populated city, which has undergone a radical urban renewal and gentrification process during the four tenures of former mayor Jaime Nebot (2000 to 2019). This has pushed street vendors further into peripheral areas of the city, and into informality, and has sparked ongoing
conflict between street vendors and municipal authorities. Based on a discourse analysis and an analysis of national and local policies and regulations regarding street vending, we argue that street vending has been framed, consecutively, as a symbol of a chaotic past, as an expression of the right to work, and as entrepreneurship. These discourses translated into an array of policies that overall do not allow street vendors to successfully claim their access to public space. For that reason, this paper considers that the right to the city approach could open more transformational political avenues to enhance vendors’ claims over public space by acknowledging two rights: the right to appropriate public space and the right to participate in public decisions in the city.