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Urban planning policies and models based on the modernist thinking are geared towards creating cities and towns constituted entirely of formal sector activities. Any activity regarded as informal is excluded from the urban landscape through the execution of rigid and restrictive planning and development control mechanisms. Despite this, it is now acknowledged that street vending or informal sector trading in cities and towns of developing countries will continue to grow, and as such, require detailed understanding beyond the technocratic approach to urban planning. This paper summarizes the main findings of two studies the author conducted within street vendors in Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana. Informed by the modernist and postmodernist theoretical positions the first study adopted a mixed-methods approach to investigate urban planning aspects of street vending in the city. The second study was conceptualized from a qualitative case-study research design to understand contextual factors shaping youth livelihoods in Botswana from the perspective of young women engaged in street vending in Gaborone.
The two studies revealed that street vending activities in Gaborone like in other cities of the developing world are undertaken to generate self-employment and income as a response to the multidimensionality of poverty. Beyond economic viability, the participants are embedded in a web of complex livelihood challenges, which transcend the official rhetoric of youth and women empowerment. Not only are they subjected to repressive planning legislation, but they strive to construct personal identities rooted within diverse socio-cultural contexts to which they belong. They define and position situations of their livelihoods beyond their immediate spatial context of Gaborone. Engagement in street vending emerged to be a socially constructed phenomenon which is intertwined with historically-situated gender and intergenerational power relationships. This paper argues that it is worthwhile to respond to the proliferation of street vending beyond the modernist planning approach and consider meanings people construct about their livelihoods.
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