Will this attempt work?
During the Budget debate last week, the Minister of Transport and Works promised that within another three or four months, covered accommodation will be provided for between scores of vendors who currently ply their trade on the streets of Kingstown.
This is certainly not the first time that this Administration has attempted to address the problem of haphazard street vending in Kingstown, but for the first time, specific locations – the former Customs long room and the old vegetable market- have been identified, and a time line stated.
Proper management of street vending has been a challenge in St Vincent and the Grenadines for decades. In the past, solutions have focused on shifting vendors from place to place, or talks about creating more attractive stalls from which they would ply their trade.
The James Mitchell administration of the 1990s even went as far as to build the Kingstown Vegetable Market, referred to by Mitchell as “the poor people palace”, in an effort to take the vendors off the streets into a protected, controlled environment. The intention though noble, in implementation turned out to be one of the biggest physical planning blunders in the history of this country.
That monstrosity of a building is now shunned by the very persons for whom it was built! It sits as an eyesore at the centre of our city, contributing greatly to Kingstown’s unattractiveness and congestion.
Will this attempt to move vendors off the streets work? Hopefully, we have learnt from the Kingstown Vegetable Market experience and efforts will be made to attract foot traffic into the vending area. Without heavy traffic, it is likely that the vendors will return to the streets, using the allocated areas only for storage – unless systems are put in place to prevent this.
Among the advantages of the Customs building longroom is that it is in the direct path of cruise visitors who are taking walking tours of Kingstown. If we add live music to the mix, and open up that area and the rebuilt old Kingstown market to make the activities inside visible from the street, that should help.
Despite its best efforts, Government will never be able to find sufficient accommodation for all our street vendors. It seems that every day, two or three new faces turn up on our sidewalks, vending one commodity or another. Vending is attractive because of the autonomy it gives practitioners, and regular cash flow it appears to offer. However, how many of these vendors really do make a living from the goods they sell on the street? How many of them keep accurate records to determine just how much they are making or losing on a weekly or monthly basis? This may be an opportune time for vendors to do stocktaking to determine whether their efforts are worth the while.
The issue must however be addressed with urgency and we wish the authorities well with this latest effort, and urge the Opposition to lend its support. Because of the political implications and potentially explosive nature of any move to take away or reduce the livelihood of vendors, politicians have tended to either tiptoe around or exploit the situation, depending on which side of the fence they sit. In the interest of the vendors and of the nation, our representatives need to work together to arrive at a solution, as they no doubt all agree – the status quo cannot continue.