Contributed by: C. Aparnaa
The presence of vendors in public spaces are ubiquitous to Indian cities. For instance, in the context of Ahmedabad, these economic activities often define the characteristics of the public space. In a small neighbourhood of Chandkheda near New C.G. Road, there is a daily vegetable market that functions from 8 am to 9 pm. The vendors occupy and adhere to the unpaved and undesignated street edge. This market occupies the street edge abutting a walled vacant land that sits between commercial buildings and residential societies in the vicinity, acting as a prime spot for vending. With time, a pani puri vendor setup his stall, taking the opportunity of the location and the established market. He buys produce from the same vegetable market and other ingredients like curd from the shop on the other side of the same street. People often buy vegetables, visit the pani puri stall and go home or vice versa. Besides this came about vendors who sell novelty items, also taking advantage of the existing market and prime location for customers. These vendors use the vacant land to park their vehicles after unloading of their produce, sit under the shade of 2-3 trees that are present for having lunch and resting during the afternoon and to throw away vegetable remains. In the evening, cow owners come with their cows to this space for feeding on the vegetable remains. There are benches setup by the pani puri vendor and some seating areas that the residents of the neighbourhood access for their evening meetings. The street is now recognized as the ‘sabzi mandi road’, that has also induced other economic and social activities on the street edges and and in the abutting vacant lands.
Location: Near Sona Cross Road, Chandkheda, Ahmedabad. Picture Credit: C. Aparnaa
How does your neighbourhood’s street or public space facilitate interdependencies between economic activities and the social life of public spaces?
Few researches like Whyte (1980)("The social life of small urban spaces") and Francis et al., (2012) ("&Creating sense of community: the role of public space") etc., have also highlighted how shops and food stalls in public spaces are associated with sense of community, as they act as gathering space aiding casual interaction.
Presence of Economic activities in public spaces adds both meaning and character to the public spaces. The economic activities also benefits from the facilities the public spaces afford and the access to wider public (who inturn become their customers).
Economic activities itself sometimes becomes the reason for people to visit and engage at public spaces. The economic activities could include daily hawkers occupying the available open space, food carts, popup markets during festivals, weekly markets, art festivals etc.
The famous economic activity in Bengaluru related to the seasonal food are the "kadlekai pershe" (groundnut- fair) and "averebele mela" (Hyacinth Bean fair). These are annual fairs, that draw a lot of people to the public spaces where they are held. They not only have shops that sell the perticular seeds/ fooditems, but also has other stalls selling traditional toys, mehendi tattoo, etc.
The other such economic activity that could be observed is the "open mARTket" popup on Church Street, Bengaluru, organised by "broke artist's collective" (@collective.brokeartists). This makes the street completely pedestrianised and brings in all the art-lovers to interact at that public space. Which gives exposure to the artists and help them sell their work and also adds a colorful vibe and purpose to that public space.
These examples and the fact that Bengaluru itself developed around its economic area "the Pete area" , shows the interdependence between economic activity and public spaces.
The informal sector witnesses the maximum interdependencies. Perhaps, it becomes essential to make these connections.
For instance, in my neighbourhood, a seasonal street hawker sells fruits, especially bananas, in the summer and egg dishes in the winter. He puts up his pushcart on the streets without appropriate business, financial or technical skills. Though it is a mixed-used of buildings neighbourhood, implying most ground floors are used for renting out shops, it allows the street vendors to conduct their businesses without much authority questioning them. Some younger vendors sell face masks and momos on the street next to that seasonal vendor.
In today’s time, many customers prefer paying through an online banking mode. This becomes an issue for the seasonal vendor since he doesn’t even own a smartphone. Here, the younger vendors help him. They ask the seasonal vendor’s customers to pay them the charge for his goods, and in return, they provide him with the cash. It is quick and efficient and allows the seasonal vendor to continue his business even in changing times.