Urban Policies

TOC Image: Urban Policies

WIEGO Urban Policies Programme


WIEGO Specialists

Sally Roever
Urban Policies

Caroline Skinner
Urban Research

Sonia Dias
Sector Specialist,
Waste Pickers

Ana Carolina Ogando
Research Associate

Pilar Balbuena
Media Specialist

Victoria Okoye
Urban Advocacy Specialist

WIEGO’s Urban Policies Programme strives to make livelihoods a central issue in urban policy discourse while supporting actual practices of livelihood sustainability in select cities.

Reshaping Urban Planning and Practice to Include Informal Workers

The world’s urban population has more than doubled in the past 30 years. Now, for the first time in history, the majority of people live in urban areas. In the global South, urbanization has not been matched by industrialization, so the urban poor survive largely through work in the informal economy.

An estimated one out of three people living in cities in the developing world live without access to adequate shelter, water and sanitation – in slums. Yet city governments, pre-occupied with competing for foreign investment and “world class city” status, largely neglect informal workers and slum dwellers, and often actively evict them.

To reduce urban poverty, a fundamental rethinking and reshaping of urban priorities, plans, regulations, and policies to incorporate the working poor is required.

Over half of the non-agricultural workforce in most developing countries – over three quarters in some – work in the informal economy, which is integral to the economies of towns and cities. Urban authorities must allow street vendors, hawkers, market traders and the open-air markets, small kiosks or built markets where they vend to co-exist alongside large retail malls. They must incorporate waste pickers into modern solid waste management systems. And they must support home-based production through basic infrastructure services and appropriate zoning policies.

There is an urgent need to provide basic services: access to water, sanitation and shelter to the urban poor, especially for those whose homes double as their workplaces. However, conceptual, institutional and resource barriers prohibit this alternative vision for cities.

What is required, in brief, is to develop an inclusive approach to urban zoning, regulations and laws, and plans and policies that integrates the livelihoods of the urban working poor, and to prioritize infrastructure delivery to the urban poor both where they live and where they work. Representatives of the working poor must have a voice in urban planning processes.

WIEGO has focused on the urban informal economy in general, and on home based workers, street vendors and waste pickers in particular.

Goals & Activities

Urban policies

WIEGO’s Urban Policies Program (UPP) aims to contribute to the reshaping of urban policy debates and government practices by:

  • increasing visibility of urban informal workers, their issues and contributions
  • demonstrating viable options for including urban informal workers
  • shaping urban policy debates and government practices
  • supporting membership-based organizations (MBOs) and their campaigns
  • institutionalizing inclusive practice via curriculum innovation

Increasing Visibility of Urban Informal Workers, their Issues and Contributions

Highlighting the Size and Contribution of the Urban Informal Economy

Reliable data on urban informal employment and on specific worker groups are essential to ensure policy visibility and inclusive planning processes. Conducted in concert with WIEGO’s Statistics Programme, this research aims to establish the best possible statistical picture of the size and contribution of the informal economy in urban areas and in a number of large cities, in particular. Research also reflects on the strengths and limitations of existing data collection techniques so as to facilitate cross-country learning about how best to collect statistics on the urban informal economy.

Our data analysis suggests that informal work exceeds formal work in most towns and cities in the developing world. See Statistics. WIEGO Statistical Briefs provide summary statistics and information about improved methods for the collection, tabulation and analysis of statistics. WIEGO Working Papers provide more detailed analyses.

Monitoring Trends for Informal Workers/Economy around the Globe

Continuous global monitoring and dissemination of news and information allows WIEGO to maintain an accurate profile of particular places of concern (“hot spots”) and of inclusive practice (“bright spots”). Feeds are sent to membership-based organizations (MBOs), fostering international solidarity and cross-country learning. This activity also increases the profile of informality issues across diverse constituencies who use WIEGO’s Global Monitoring service, including urban practitioners and policymakers.

WIEGO monitors patterns over time. For example, since WIEGO began tracking news on street vending, it has identified hundreds of cases of evictions – a rate of at least one eviction of street vendors every day worldwide. This powerfully demonstrates how pervasive exclusionary practices are.

Sign up for the Global Monitoring service.

Demonstrating Viable Options for Including Urban Informal Workers

The Art of ‘the Possible’ – Documenting Good Practice

This work assesses trends in urban policies, planning processes, services/infrastructure delivery and organizational practice for home-based workers, street vendors and waste pickers. Particular attention is paid to identifying and disseminating innovative policy and planning approaches and organizational practices that have resulted in securer livelihoods.

The goal is to strengthen organizations of informal workers and their voice in policymaking processes. The work also aims to facilitate cross-context learning among urban practitioners in general and worker organizations in particular.

Read more about Documenting Policy & Organizational Practice.

Technical Advice to Support Inclusion of Informal Workers

UPP provides technical content for MBOs and urban practitioners in pursuit of inclusive practices.

Content in WIEGO Technical Briefs tackles questions such as:

  • how do you conduct a street trader census?
  • what is appropriate zoning that would support home based workers?
  • what options are there for paying waste pickers for the valuable environmental service they provide?

We also look at mainstreaming gender analysis and women's leadership in the waste picking sector; see Gender & Waste.

Shaping Urban Policy Debates and Government Practices

10-City Informal Economy Monitoring Study

The 10-city Informal Economy Monitoring Study (IEMS) provides credible, grounded evidence of the range of driving forces, both positive and negative, that affect conditions of work in the informal economy over time. To date, no other study has made these drivers visible to both informal workers and policy makers through systematic comparative research combining qualitative (participatory) and quantitative methods. The IEMS is also unique in that it puts the findings in the hands of informal workers and their organizations.
Read findings from the Informal Economy Monitoring Study.

A precursor to the IEMS was an assessment of the impact of the global economic crisis on the working poor. See Impact and Achievements, below.

Budget Analysis in the Informal Economy

Pioneered by the women’s movement, the interrogation of resource allocation within government budgets has proved to be a powerful policy analysis and advocacy tool. This component of the WIEGO/Inclusive Cities work adapted these techniques for the informal economy. Analysis of budget allocations for informal workers has been conducted in Brazil, Pakistan, Peru, and the Philippines and more recently in Accra, Ghana and Durban, South Africa. Learn more: Informal Economy Budget Analysis.

Engagement in International Policy Debates

UPP engages in a range of international policy debates and campaigns. We have been an active participant in the Right to the City initiative and the campaign to secure a dedicated Urban Sustainable Development Goal. We collaborate with UN Habitat, through direct engagement with relevant departments and participation in expert group meetings. We are a lead partner on the World Urban Campaign and active participants in World Urban Forums (see for example WIEGO at the 2014 World Urban Forum in Medellin).

We have presented on numerous policy platforms, among them Metropolis and the United Nations Advisory Committee of Local Authorities. We review and contribute to global reports such as Powerful Synergies – Gender Equality, Economic Development and Environmental Sustainability (UNDP), the 2013 World Development Report on Jobs (World Bank), and the Global Waste Management Outlook – GWMO (UNEP).

In all of these engagements we aim to raise the profile of the urban informal economy and secure concrete commitments from policymakers to secure informal livelihoods.

Engagement in National and Local Policy Debates

UPP responds to national and local government requests and serves as a resource network. For example:

Waste Picking Sector Specialist Sonia Dias frequently plays a critical bridging role between state officials and waste pickers. She participates in the Waste and Citizenship forums at local, subnational and national levels, which are key places of policy engagement between waste pickers and the state. She also advises different ministries and state agencies. Outside of Brazil, Sonia has been advising the Johannesburg City Council and the Egyptian National Government on their waste management policy.

Home-Based Work Sector Specialist Shalini Sinha has advised the Indian government on a range of issues, and worked with the National Alliance of Social Security to influence social policy.

Programme Director Caroline Skinner advises the Cape Town City Council and has been supporting Johannesburg- based consultants working on inner city street trading management alternatives. She is also engaging with three key national ministries – the Department of Small Business, Trade and Industry and the Treasury.

Monitoring of Laws and Litigation

Laws and policies critically shape the environment in which the urban working poor operate. UPP supports the Law & Informality project by contributing urban laws to the database and analysing the urban legal and regulatory environment. When the opportunity arises, UPP provides technical assistance to legal cases – for example the Legal Resources Centre case in Durban South Africa challenging the constitutionality of confiscating street vendor goods.

Supporting Membership-Based Organizations and their Campaigns

Assisting Waste Pickers’ Organizations

Sonia Dias has had a long relationship in particular with cooperatives of waste pickers in Belo Horizonte, Brazil but also with the waste picker movement throughout Brazil and Latin America. Her work has focused recently on a women’s empowerment project among waste pickers and their organizations in Brazil: see Gender & Waste. She also supports organizations of waste pickers worldwide.

Assisting Home-Based Workers’ Organizations

Shalini Sinha, the home-based work specialist, has acted as a key resource for HomeNet South Asia. She has generated content, conducted training and participated in events, most notably as a key organiser of the Global Conference on Home-based Work which resulted in the historic Delhi Declaration of Home-based Workers. She has also been working with the Self-Employed Woman’s Association and the Mahila Housing Trust particularly to distil key lessons learned from both for internal reflection but also broader dissemination.

Assisting Street Traders’ Organizations

Sally Roever and Caroline Skinner have concentrated on the street trading sector, responding to requests from StreetNet International on particular crisis issues (e.g. the Draft Business Licensing Bill in South Africa and the removal of street vendors in São Paulo, Brazil) and from other WIEGO members both individual and institutional.

Assessing the Impact of Mega Events on the Working Poor

Hosting mega events is often a catalyst to excluding informal workers in general and street traders in particular from urban plans. Through this work, lessons learned in one country are shared to inform partners in countries that will be hosting similar events in the future. This component of our work supported and complemented StreetNet’s World Class Cities Campaign. See more about Mega Events and the Urban Working Poor.

Institutionalizing Inclusive Practice via Curriculum Innovations

Working with Educators

Urban professionals – planners, architects, urban designers, engineers – are critical to “city making” but are often ill-equipped to plan for informality. This work aims to develop, test, and institutionalize an urban planning curriculum on the urban informal economy. Online resources have been developed and are available for download. So far the work has concentrated on engaging with the African Association of Planning Educators and the Indian Institute for Human Settlements. See more on Influencing Planning Curricula to Better Reflect the Concerns & Needs of Informal Workers.

Notable Gains

Urban policies

Assessing the Impact of the Global Economic Crisis on the Informal Economy

Few analyses of the global economic crisis considered its impact on the working poor. In mid-2009, WIEGO and our Inclusive Cities partners conducted research with informal workers in 10 developing countries – and found the reality very different from mainstream assumptions. See The Global Economic Crisis and the Urban Informal Economy to learn about findings and read the reports.

Using Research to Engage Policymakers

Informal workers and their organizations have used findings from the10-city Informal Economy Monitoring Study to engage with city officials and policymakers on urgent issues affecting their livelihoods.

  • In Bangkok, HomeNet Thailand used the study to advocate for better transport
  • In Nakuru, Kenya, KENASVIT and its affiliate NASTHA used the study to negotiate for better access to trading sites and a reduction in harassment
  • In Bogotá, Colombia, the Asociación de Recicladores de Bogotá (ARB) has constantly cited the data in its ongoing negotiations with city authorities.

Influencing Planning Curricula to Better Reflect the Concerns of Informal Workers

In 2011, WIEGO signed a memorandum of understanding with the African Association of Planning Schools (AAPS). AAPS currently has 55 members across the African continent. As part of this agreement the UPP team developed a Postgraduate Educational Toolkit on the Urban Informal Economy. This toolkit has been disseminated through the AAPS network as part of their work on revitalizing planning education on the continent. Collaborations like this are key to influencing the next generation of urban practitioners.

Bringing Gender to the Forefront of Practice Among Waste Pickers and Solid Waste Practitioners

A Gender & Waste Project, based on a research-action pilot project in Minas Gerais, Brazil, was an initial process of bringing gender consciousness to the forefront of the discussion among women waste pickers. It sought to provide women waste pickers with a clearer understanding of the practical tools they need to challenge entrenched gender hierarchies present in their own lives at home, at work and in the movement. Read more.