Sunday, January 7, 2018

Who Owns the Sidewalks?

A cop watches as vendors gather up their goods on a side street off of Carrera 7.
One of Mayor Peñalosa's most prominent and polemical policies, clearing public spaces of illegal vendors, may have hit a roadblock.

Courts ruled recently that vendors who sell on a particular spot for a considerable time acquire rights
A car occupies a sidewalk in the Los Martires neighborhood.
If you park your car on a sidewalk long enough,
does that make you the sidewalk's owner?
of possession for that piece of pavement, something like eminent domain, and can't be driven off without a sort of due process. By the same token, the court ruled, by permitting vendors to use sidewalks as their retail space for years, it is implicitly saying that they have a right to be there, and authorities can't suddenly change the rules.

This is an age-old battle in Bogotá, and one which the city won't ever win. As long as there are poor people here and the sidewalks offer access to many potential customers, vendors will occupy them, even if they are forced to play hide-and-seek with the police.

A cop escorts a vendor off of Carrera 7.
It is true that many street vendors are a nuisance: They clutter and block sidewalks, compete with tax-paying formal businesses and contribute to an atmosphere of anarchy and disorder. But they also serve many functions, providing a livelihood to poor people and easy access to products for the rest of us. I've bought headphones, books, socks, fruit and shoes on the street (or sidewalk).

If only authorities could distinguish between 'good' vendors who don't block pedestrians and
don't compete with neighboring shops, and those who do do damage to urban living. Unfortunately, making such a distinction is nearly impossible, and therefore

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

No comments: