Refocusing Urban Planning to the Realities of Informal Trade in Sub-Saharan African Cities: The Case of Kisumu City, Kenya

Walter Alando, George G. Wagah, Maria Nystrom


Recent policy pronouncements in many sub-Saharan African cities strive to accommodate informal trade within city planning realms. Growing appreciation of the potentials of the sector to ease unemployment situation partly informs this effort. However, given inadequate institutional framework, it remains unclear how planning can reconcile this new initiative to resolve disorderly spatial patterns that result from informal trade. The paper explores the possibility of utilizing the concept of multifunctional space design in the context of Kisumu City, Kenya to bridge this knowledge gap. Data from focus group discussions and key informant interviews was analysed to characterise the sector, account for its location problem, and understand its potentials for collaborative space production. The study found out that informal trade is more diverse than presently understood. Its location problem is mainly attributable to diminishing space for location. Inadequate planning regime, which sometimes restricts potentials for vertical expansion aggravates this problem. Lastly, the sector has well-organised leadership that steers its innovative use of available spaces to accommodate its diversity. The paper concludes that informal trade does not necessarily present a lack of order. Proactively embracing the sector can thus inspire the production of functional spaces that accommodate its interests and the city’s. We recommend that all forms of informal trade be documented to understand their contribution to the city’s development. Further, the city authority should provide spaces for informal trade to realise its potential in development. Accordingly, planning should build on the structures and innovation of informal traders to co-produce spaces that accommodate multiple users.

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