Insights from Mexico City: The Right to Mobility and Work in Public Space


Street vending has been an inherent part of Mexican culture since pre-Hispanic times. In Mexico City, 1.2 million people are part of this informal sector and rely on their ability to work in public space. These vendors make the streets lively and dynamic, and provide people with affordable food and services that they cannot easily get elsewhere. Whether selling goods from temporary or fixed stalls, and even on bikes, street vendors offer diverse services and products like fresh fruit juice, tacos, and key repair. In Mexico City, they are virtually everywhere: alongside sidewalks, outside metro stations, and in parks. Their omnipresence at convenient locations is part of their value. For many people who spend several hours on public transport, the street
vendors outside office buildings provide the only chance to get an affordable and healthy breakfast. During the COVID-19 pandemic, street vendors ensure low income essential workers can find inexpensive meals. Given
that the stalls are outside, with fresh air circulation, and often comply with sanitary measures, they are even less prone to propagating the virus than indoor restaurants. With coronavirus restrictions, many office workers are working from home, drastically cutting their commutes. This has caused the number of regular customers for street vendors to drop. Additionally, local authorities have used sanitary regulations as an impetus to displace vendors from their regular locations since the pandemic began.

With the support of Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), ITDP is proposing a new solution for these rights to coexist in public space:
1. Provide safety to all street users. Safety is one of the most important factors in street design, both road safety and social security. Streets must be safe for all: those moving and those working.
2. Equitably reallocate public space. Public space is the most important resource for street vendors.

While space is limited for all road users, a considerable amount of road space is dedicated to cars. As a result, pedestrians and street vendors are pushed onto compact sidewalks. It is important to increase sidewalks and reduce road space dedicated to cars.
3. Include all street users in the design process. In many cases, street design manuals are used to reorganize public space. However, these manuals do not consider how to include street vending in street planning or the final design. To understand the needs of street vendors and pedestrians, both users should be included in the street design process. Cities can do this through various strategies like workshops, participation platforms, and tactical urbanism.
4. Consider street vending viability in street redesign and public space reorganization. When considering the reorganization of public space for the street user, street vending viability and flexibility need to be considered. It is important to analyze the pedestrian flow and the street space, so users can coexist without hampering each other.
Street vending has been part of urban life for many years, and this current crisis has merely underlined its vast contributions to street life and the well-being of millions of people in Mexico City. Without recognizing street vendors as part of the natural fabric of the city, legislators do a disservice not only to the many vendors but all the pedestrians; in rethinking urban spaces, street vending must not only be considered, but included in planning. Mexican cities can create space that is not only more equitable, but will ultimately be beneficial to the many patrons of the vendors, as well as all street users; inclusivity will improve the streets for everyone.

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