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Management of street vending in Southeast Asia

The opening of the first Shanghai Nightlife Festival, which allows street vending and brings colorful cultural life to the citizens, has shed some light on urban governance. After some research, we have found that some neighboring countries in Southeast Asia are worth learning from.

(A night market in Chiang Mai, Thailand)

Street vending has always been a challenge for municipal management, regardless of country. In his study “Street Vendors in Asia: A Review”, Sharit Bhowmik mentions that some countries like Malaysia, India and the Philippines have rolled out policies to regulate and protect street vendors. However, he has found that except for South Korea and India, street vendors in most Asian countries are not unionized.

In India, the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) has been more successful. The country also has a Town Vending Committee (TVC), consisting of municipal commissioners, local authorities, planning authorities and street vendors federations, residents’ welfare associations or community-based organizations (CBO), and civil society organizations. TVC ensures the provision of civil facilities, fee collection and registration of vendors.

(A local market in India)

In Surakarta, a major city in Central Java, Indonesia, street vendors used to be a headache of the local government. People struggling to make a daily income in a weakened economy due to the Indonesian financial crisis of 1998 generated a large number of complaints for the City Mayor’s desk. The Solo province administration then provided some major lines of action for the street vendors, namely: the building of better communication amongst stakeholders; the creation of dedicated space for the street vendors by relocation in consultation with NGOs and street vendor representatives; provision of umbrella-tents (traditional Javanese style carts or modified shelters); the provision of legal status to the street vendors’ business; and training for street vendors on how to manage and expand their business.

Speaking of South Korea, rather than attempting to remove the vendors, the country’s capital city, Seoul, has expanded efforts to legalize them in order to bring them under control. In 2007, the Seoul Metropolitan Government designated a number of “specialized streets” in the city for street vendors who must follow stall design and operation rules. District offices have also carried out their own initiatives to better control the vendors.

Back in the 1960s, Singapore was also imbued with street vendors. Hawker centers were then set up for better regulation under the National Environment Agency (NEA). Each year, the government ranks the vendors according to their food hygiene, cleaning processes and food security. Vendors who get lower grades will be fined or receive more serious punishment.

In Bangkok, Thailand, vendors are not allowed to operate on Mondays, when they have to assist in cleaning the street. The Public Cleansing and Public Parks Section, the City Law Enforcement Section and vendors work together to clean sidewalks and public spaces on the second and third Mondays of each month. If some vendors cannot help in cleaning, they must provide cleaning equipment such as brooms, soap and baking soda.


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