Claiming the Streets: Property Rights and Legal Empowerment in the Urban Informal Economy

Alison Brown

This paper looks at the concept of law and urban development with a focus on property rights and land, exploring the potential collective rights in the public domain to underpin a more equitable approach to the management of public space and challenge inappropriate regulation that criminalizes the lives of the poor. The focus is on street trade and the informal economy.


The hypotheses are that: collective use rights extend to public land and are crucial to the livelihoods of the urban poor; such use provides public good as well as private profit, and legal traditions in sub-Saharan Africa can often accommodate the broad definition of rights entailed.


The literature review interrogates debates on property rights, legal empowerment, and public space, to suggest that urban public space should be considered as a common resource where open access remains. Fieldwork draws on comparative studies of Dakar, Senegal, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, based on in-depth interviews with street traders and key informants, and a legal review in each city.

Informal Economy Theme
Occupational group
Publication Type