Thursday, March 01, 2007

Street Vendors Gained Permission in Major Cities: A Governing Approach Turnabout

Street vendors in China

The city of Chongqing is preparing to carry out new policies allowing street vendors to do their business, after decades of banning and cracking down on them, city newspapers reported.

The city government said recently that some back streets and alleys in the city will be open to street vendors within this year, with more than 10,000 spots already in plan, providing over 15,000 jobs. To get a spot, applicants should be laid-off workers of government or state-owned enterprise, low-income people and migrant workers, according to local newspapers.

The city government will obtain consent from local residents before setting up vendor spots in an area, and will set regulations for facilities and business hours of these spots. Certain procedures, such as road occupation permission and sanitation examination, are also required.

Just a few days ago, Shanghai government revealed similar policy initiatives, allowing street vendors in certain areas and certain hours, which is expected to take effect in the second half of this year, China Central Television reported.

The public has praised such a turnabout of the administrative approach of city governments, which have often handled their unfavored matters like street vendors with just one rule: prohibition.

In most Chinese cities it is illegal for individuals to just get out on the streets, set up a stand and sell stuff, because the city government says they block roads, cause traffic jam and create lots of trash, compromising the government’s efforts to beautify the city and improve traffic.

Tens of thousands of people, however, mostly unemployed urban residents and migrant workers, make a living by doing such trade. There are no less than 50,000 such street vendors in Shanghai alone, Xinhua reported.

For decades, street vendors and city patrol officers have been playing the cat-and-mouse game, mostly resulting in the vendors being chased away, fined, or having their goods confiscated. In several incidents, such confrontations evolved into assaults or violence, leaving either the vendors or the officers injured or even dead.

But the vendors keep coming back, because they lack other ways of surviving and they do have a market. Urban residents like the convince and great bargain offered by the vendors, who usually sell fresh vegetable, fruits or other small goods right in front of residential buildings, at very low prices.

“Actually many street vendors in residential areas are welcomed by residents,” a Shanghai city official was quoted by Xinhua as saying. “It is better to allow some options than to completely ban [street vendors].”

Most of the public reactions toward the new approach hailed it as a wise policy, a good move toward building a harmonious society, an idea fostered by President Hu Jintao.

“This is no doubt a return to the idea of serving the people,” writes blogger Zhou Minghua.

“Absolutely support!” Another poster wrote at forum. “This is an embodiment of [the government] letting the poor to survive.”

But not everyone likes the new policy. Some people posted comments on the forum to express concerns that the ban lift could bring dirty streets and traffic jams. There are also voices calling on the city of Beijing not to follow suit.

Still some are more reserved in singing the praise. “It is indeed a bit of progress, but it is too early to draw conclusion of the outcome,” one comment reads.

----by Josie Liu

Chongqing story

Shanghai story

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