Walking Through Warwick: The Power of Public Space for the Informal Economy
Meet Nonhlanhla Zuma. Nonhlanhla is a traditional medicine trader in Warwick Junction, the busiest transport node and trading hub in Durban, South Africa. Her trading days in Warwick began in 1982 during years of harassment when she would run from the police and watch her goods being removed. Amenities were not provided to traders and she worked on an exposed street pavement where her goods faced constant threat of being damaged or stolen. Now, she has moved her business to a kiosk that is complete with water, lighting and a security facilities to lock her kiosk up at night. Nonhlanhla is one of approximately 8,000 traders who come to Warwick every day to trade informally, offering a range of traditional African herbs and medicine, fresh produce, goods ranging from soap to music to spoons, beadwork, live poultry and traditional cuisine.
A Walk Through Warwick
Walking through Warwick is a kaleidoscope of colours and a symphony for the senses. The myriad of kiosks and markets, and once-derelict-now-vibrant bridges and overpasses offers a glimpse into street traders’ lives and the significant role they play in city life. The creative use of public space to establish an informal trading area accommodating the traders’ needs is apparent all around you as your feet hit the pavement. With 460,000 people and 38,000 vehicles passing through daily, Warwick is at the confluence of Durban’s primary public transportation and trading hub. Let’s take a walk.
Warwick’s past is steeped in racial discrimination, exclusive policies, and neglect. The area had the reputation as dilapidated and crime-ridden, and due to years of apartheid planning Warwick was segregated racially and divided politically and economically until the early 1990s. Discriminatory legislation and policies, and violent mass evictions made life very difficult for informal street traders. Following the first democratic election in South Africa in 1994, in an effort to transform a poorly designed Warwick into a safer and more inclusive space for street traders’, the Warwick Junction Urban Renewal Project was initiated by the City. For over a decade local officials, street traders and membership-based trader organizations collaborated and negotiated on the Project’s redesign of the area. The Project’s inclusive approach adopted an area-based management and local inter-departmental operating structure, where participation of all stakeholders and consultations occurred on a number of levels. Redesigning infrastructural components of the market area dramatically improved the trading conditions. Following a highly consultative process, priority was placed on increasing pedestrian routes, widening walkways, and easing congestion of primary trading hubs. The trading area was paved, shelter and locked storage facilities increased, trader kiosks with water and electricity were constructed, and new spaces were developed for pinafore and bead traders, and a clay market.
The infrastructural changes and repurposing of empty space supported the traders’ needs, and created healthier, less congested, and safer public spaces. The participatory processes and innovative operating structure included in the urban renewal of Warwick were central to the Project’s success of revitalising Warwick as a vibrant area of inclusive space for street traders and the informal sector on the hinge of Durban’s inner-city.
Warwick’s revitalisation has led to economic development including community-based tourism opportunities, and continues to contribute to the local economy and provide employment. Informal trade turnover in Warwick Junction is estimated to be R1 billion annually. There are very few examples in South Africa and internationally where street traders have been acknowledged for their contributions to cities or included in urban plans and development projects.
“Warwick Junction has provided exhilarating proof of how poor people, in sensitive collaboration with urban planners, can enliven a city centre, generate employment for themselves and expand services for the population at large.” – Professor Keith Hart
Traders, their organisations and allies continue to collaborate and advocate for inclusive public spaces and street traders’ right to the city. Asiye eTafuleni is a non-profit organisation who works with Durban’s informal workers operating from the city’s public spaces. AeT advocates inclusive urban planning and design, and serves as a learning hub for those interested in integrating the informal economy into urban design. Through consultative and participative processes AeT has led various projects and campaigns within Durban to develop informal workers’ working environments and opportunities, such as the Inner-city Cardboard Recycling Project and Markets of Warwick Tour Project. Asiye eTafuleni means ‘bring it to the table” in isiZulu, and they are living up to their name – engaging with the public and stakeholders to make inclusive space for Durban’s informal traders in an urban environment that recognizes the informal economy’s contribution to city life and public space, as well as the rights of informal workers.
Although Warwick’s street traders still face challenges and the benefits of the informal trading sector are often ignored , the success of the Warwick Junction Project is a testament to how including street traders in urban plans supports sustainable livelihoods, addresses poverty and unemployment challenges, and creates democratic public spaces that are safer, more inclusive and contribute to city vitality and overall urban connectivity.
For more about the informal economy, read Professor Keith Hart’s paper here.