Many followers of the late Jane Jacobs would say that the most defining spaces of the city are its streets. Streets are spaces that allow us to engage with the city as its citizens travel, work, play and meet. Streets can be perceived as the bloodlines of the city; the necessary avenues that carry all urban life from one place to another and everywhere in between.
In the same way, the street is a space of invisibility. It is a place in which the homeless can be absorbed, the ‘informal’ transaction can be embraced, and the faceless individual can roam about as an urban nomad.
And yet, there is a coherent arrangement of actors who, though sometimes invisibly, dominate the streetscape of our cities. These are individuals who experience the street in its simplest form and who hold a greater understanding of the day to day struggles of the city’s users. As in the recent case of a bomb found in Times Square, these individuals are Jane Jacobs’ citizens of the city, and the exceptionally tuned eyes on the street.
This serves as an introduction to a series of recently documented dialogues with the invaluable economic heartbeat of Mumbai’s streets; the Street Vendor.
In our conversations with a number of Mumbai’s street vendors we received a great deal of expertise on the happenings and practicalities of operating as a street vendor. Each seller has a distinct set of requirements for his or her booth and as such, different booths are required for different applications. For the sake of organization, the documentations of vending booths will be presented in a series of typologies, defined by the fundamental form of function of the vending booth structure.
Typologies: Pallet Rack Booths
Through our conversations with a series of vendors we were able to learn a great deal about the practicalities of different styles of booths. This contribution focuses on several booths located on Dharavi’s MG Road, which are made from pallet racks and used as semi-permanent structures.
The vending booth structure is a product of pure incremental functionality. Through incremental methods of development, vendors adjust and reconfigure their booths to make them most suitable for their personal business needs. With a degree of creativity and resourcefulness this vendor (pictured above) was able to create this semi-permanent structure from used pallet racks purchased in a neighbouring district of Mumbai (Kurla). The unit is able to carry a significant load, all the while maintaining its incremental form and function; the structure can easily be added to or disassembled and relocated (assembly takes roughly 15-20 minutes).
It is important to understand the logic and rationalization for the decision to use a particular method or material. With regards to pallet racks, functionality and future potential is paramount. In true incremental form, the pallet rack systems allows new elements to be fastened to the existing structure. The bottom of this vending booth (above), though not currently used, can serve as an enclosed storage space.
The pallet racking system easily allows for cabinets or a floor to be installed to the bottom of this structure. When the vendor has the ability and comfort of investing in the new components, he or she can do so and incrementally develop the booth.
Typologies: The Mobile Booth
Certain street-side applications require multi-functional booths to serve both as both a stall and method of transport. In Mumbai the most frequently seen mobile booth is pictured below.
This is a popular mobile vending booth that is available as a prefabricated unit. Since many of the city’s vendors must replace fresh product each day (i.e. fruit and vegetable produce), it is important for them to be able to transport these goods from the pickup location to the point of sale. The heavy duty wheels on these mobile booths are able to carry a significant amount product, and allow the vendor to easily setup and transport his product to and from his work place. This particular unit was purchased in Kurla, and is available for roughly Rs. 6000.
The structure consists of a central metal frame that secures 4 reinforced bicycle-sized wheels. A wooden top is fastened to the metal frame and serves as the sales tabletop. The vendor can easily push the cart to and from his workplace. Many of these units, such as this one, are officially registered with the local authorities. This one was bought in Kurla and cost Rs 6000. This kind of wheeled stall is the most popular type in that part of the city.
Similar to the fruit/veg produce vending booth, this ice cream booth serves the basic function of being mobile and sturdy. The structure itself hosts several, heavy metallic ice-boxes, which are complimented by the serving table on the top. The vendor can easily move the unit from place to place and can access his product on the move, should he require to do so.
As a symbol of leisure and recreation, the booth can also be easily decorated. Decoration seems essential to be an essential part of the ice-cream booth. It clearly distinguishes it from vegetable stalls. Maybe to support the weight of additional decoration, the wheels were much thinker that those of the vegetable stalls. Clearly an up-market stall.
Typologies: The Fixed Structure
In certain application the fixed structure serves as the most effective sales unit for vendors. Many of these booths come furnished with electricity connections, phone lines, and pre-authorized government licenses. However, the story for the vendors of these standardized booths is different from the street vendor who owns his or her own street side stall. This particular vending stall is an example of an official, licensed model that can be seen around Mumbai, as well as other parts of India. The sites, which are owned by the local authorities, are then rented out and operated by individual vendors. Each site has a standardized area (either 4×8 ft or 8×14ft), and the booth itself is constructed by the local authorities.
The license allows the vendor to officially sell any type of vending product, 24hrs per day. Vendors are allowed to upgrade their stalls, while the local government will pay 1/2 of the cost. A renovation of this particular vending booth would require roughly Rs 15,000 on the part of the tenant, to match the other Rs 15,000 which would be provided by the local authorities.
Although the government issued booth is perhaps the most popular vending stall, other forms fixed structures can also be found throughout the city. Certain shops that were once considered illegitimate have managed to incrementally become a part of the licensed family of vending booths. This shoe repair vendor has incrementally developed his booth over the past several years. The structure itself consists of an enclosed wooden frame with an asbestos roof.
The front of the booth has an inward-opening door, which is closed and locked when the vendor shuts down his shop for the night. During the monsoon months the structure must be further protected from the rain with plastic sheets. The materials involved in the incremental development of the booth have cost the vendor roughly Rs. 15,000. This booth is officially registered with the BMC.
Other fixed structures have existed in some way or another for decades. This official vending site has been in existence since the 1960’s. The licenses for these types of vending sites, which were issued by the BMC, are no longer available to new vendors interested in starting new booths.
As such, the existing units, such as this one, are rented out to vendors who pay a monthly fee to a landlord. Rents may vary throughout the city. The business owner is not the license owner. He is renting it for Rs 100 a day.
The booth closes at around 11PM-midnight. Everything is locked up inside and left on site. The owner lives in the SRA building across the street so he can keep an eye on the store. We spend about 30 minutes there chatting with people around and smoking bidies. This really seems to be an important social space for the people around. The place has been there for so long that it looks like it has taken root.
Typologies: The Collapsable Booth
For the so called “informal” vendors that populate the city, functionality can take on an entirely new meaning. For many of these vendors, structures must be quickly assembled or disassembled for any number of reasons. As the informal vendor may not have a license, his or her structure may need to be packed up, folded, and carried away in a relatively short period of time. Other vendors with fewer legal concerns may simply be required to pack up their stall at the end of each day due to their sales location or over concerns for the safety of their products. For some, a collapsable booth may simply be needed for mobility purposes, for moving from site to site. In this selection of booths we begin to see some relatively advanced ingenuity using the simplest of objects to form the most efficiently used vending structures.
Through his own creativity and resourcefulness, this sandal vendor managed to transform a used hospital bed into a sturdy vending stall, which is located on the Dharavi-Sion Footbridge. The used hospital bed is cheap (Rs. 50), simple to use, lightweight, and completely collapsible. Each day, the vendor brings his sandals from his home in Dharavi, which is seen to the right in the background of the photo. The vending stall, which is folded up and stored on the bridge each day, remains locked to the bridge’s structure while he is not selling his product (notice the lock and chain to the right of the vendor). It is easily unfolded when he arrives to sell his product.
Other units consist of multi-use objects that are used in a variety of applications for the vendor’s day to day activities. This fruit vendor uses three crates to transport his product to and from the site where he sells his produce.
Once he arrives at his site, the fruit is loaded onto to wooden tabletops, which are locked up and stored on the bridge itself (similar to the sandal vendor). The wooden tabletops are then placed on top of three crates, which elevate his produce and form the foundation of his temporary stall.
The structure is quick and easy to assemble each day (in a matter of minutes), and has been constructed using a variety of cheap materials (Rs. 300 in its entirety).