WE URGE vendors to heed the warning of Port-of-Spain Mayor Joel Martinez to obtain the requisite permissions if they wish to sell goods during the busy Christmas season. While people who would like to make an honest living should be encouraged, it is equally important to take heed of the need to have a more orderly arrangement on the streets of the capital that benefits all users, not just the sellers.
Street vendors provide an invaluable service to shoppers. They provide a wide range of items, some of which are farmed locally, to buyers at market prices. They are also relatively more accessible as people can obtain the items they need on a routine trip to the city centre. Vending, therefore, is part of the lifeblood of our urban landscape, bringing people in droves to areas they would otherwise not feel inclined to frequent given the overall stagnation of our urban spaces. Further, street markets present a colourful, authentic side of us, harking back to our rich social traditions that have been around from time immemorial. If managed properly, our market spaces have the capacity to be a genuine tourist attraction.
However, haphazard and unregulated vending is more a nuisance than an attraction. Vendors can contribute to traffic blockages and pollution, disfiguring the urban landscape. Chaos also harbours unsavoury elements, encouraging if not facilitating street-level crime.
We agree with Mayor Martinez’s assessment. Illegal vending is not only a nuisance, it is also unfair to the vendors who do take the time, effort and expense to get permission to vend. It needless complicates what little efforts are being made to gradually transform the city’s landscape.
Despite the economic situation, it is clear there is still a heavy demand for retail space in the city. The fire on Friday on lower Henry Street can have only added to the pressure. In this regard, the deeper problem is the question of the need for a reorganisation of the city as a whole. The problems of where to place vendors and how to tackle illegal vendors have been around for dozens of years and yet little headway seems to have been made.
Mayor after mayor, including Martinez, have made ill-fated interventions that have always faltered. Perhaps this is because each year the way the issue is tackled is skin-deep. Yes, enforcement of the law is key to deter any unwanted practices. And yes, mayors need to continue to lobby vocally for change. But what is the State doing in the long run?
What is needed is a workable solution that does not involve congesting our most-frequented roadways while at the same time not exiling vendors to the hinterlands at the farthest ends of the city. We need a proper plan that integrates the needs of motorists, pedestrians, vendors, and businesses – all while providing a pleasing tourist attraction.