A reasonable solution must be sought
October 2, 2000
CITY HALL and the Regent Street pavement vendors, who have enjoyed an adversarial relationship for many years, are facing off in another crisis.
A High Court decision last week gave the Mayor and City Council the right to remove the vendors and their structures from the pavements, and, wasting little time, the City Constabulary and other available manpower dismantled the structures last Friday night.
By Saturday morning, the vendors were so outraged that they staged an impromptu picketing exercise protesting the removal of their stands and lamenting the fact that they were given no intimation of the drastic action that had been planned.
We have no intention of retracing the legal tangle that resulted in this forced clearance of the pavements, nor do we feel it necessary to pronounce on justification or otherwise of the City's action. Instead, we propose posing two simple questions: Why hasn't the Mayor and City Council devised a workable alternative to accommodate the dozens of vendors and itinerant peddlers who throng Georgetown's commercial areas? How is it that expertise in demographics and city zoning has not been called in to study this dilemma and to come up with a long-term solution to a problem that has dogged the City for nigh on two decades?
In an age of specialisation when there are experts in every imaginable area of modern existence, it is amazing that neither the Ministry of Housing nor the City Hall has been successful in persuading one of these social scientists/urban planners to devise a strategy that would allow the vendors the opportunity to pursue their livelihood without choking City pavements with unsightly tents and rickety stalls. At the same time, citizens would be able to traverse the pavements unimpeded and store owners would be relieved of the nuisance of having the facades of their business-places blocked up by vendors in unfair competition with them.
We recall the sad experience of JP Santos of Water Street, which decided to go out of business at that spot simply because permanent pavement vendors had established a number of tall stalls which effectively obliterated the view of the store from the street.
The vendors who eke out their livelihood this way are a hardy bunch of small entrepreneurs who have obtained bank loans and three-month credit facilities to stock their little stalls. Many of them were clerks, typists and other functionaries in the public sector before retrenchment or redeployment forced them on the streets. Like other contributing members of the populace, they have to service mortgages or pay their rents, send their children to university and repay their loans. They have a right under the laws of this land to be allowed to make a livelihood. They do not deserve to be harassed or hassled as a result of the changeable policies articulated by City Hall.
Twenty-five years ago, the Vendor's Arcade which is located at the bottom of Regent Street was created by Georgetown Mayor Beryl Simon. That was her response to the problem of pavement vendors. And for a time, it was very successful. However, with a swelling urban population and the IMF diktat of a smaller public sector in the 1980s, the itinerant vendor population has grown by leaps and bounds. In recent times, there was the much-voiced comment of the City having more sellers than buyers.
The Christmas season, which traditionally witnesses a rise in the pavement vending population, will soon be here. Our City fathers and mothers must seek a rational solution to this problem.
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