The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Stigmatising informal food retailers in African cities

15 March 2018, 5:30 pm–7:00 pm

Stigmatising informal food retailers in African cities

Event Information

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The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


DPU 101, 34 Tavistock Square, WC1H 9EZ

Recent research on urban food security and poverty in African cities, conducted through the African Centre for Cities, provides convincing evidence of the important role played by informal food retailers. Poor households are highly reliant on this network of suppliers to access affordable and fresh foods in relatively close proximity to their homes. Yet in most towns and cities informal traders, whether market, street or home based, are stigmatised and marginalised by city governments through planning laws underpinned by visions of modern and world-class cities. Described as ‘filth’ and sources of disease, traders are alternately excluded from good locations and urban infrastructure or promised access to them, depending on political alignments and tactics of vote-banking and clientelism. But the impacts are also felt in terms of food insecurity, poor nutrition and job loss.

Speaker Bio

Vanessa Watson is professor of city planning in the School of Architecture, Planning and Geomatics at the University of Cape Town (South Africa). She holds degrees from the Universities of Natal, Cape Town and the Architectural Association of London, and a PhD from the University of Witwatersrand, and is a Fellow of the University of Cape Town. She is the project PI on the research project Consuming Urban Poverty based at the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town. The project is funded by ESRC/Dfid 2015-2017 and involves three African partner countries.

 Her research over the last thirty-five years has focussed on urban planning in the global South and the effects of inappropriate planning practices and theories especially in Africa. Her work seeks to unsettle the geo-politics of knowledge production in planning by providing alternative theoretical perspectives from the global South. More recently she has followed the new economic forces re-shaping African cities, in particular the private-sector driven property development initiatives. These new forces are likely to greatly exacerbate processes of marginalisation and exclusion of the poor in cities of Africa, and above all will escalate problems of urban food insecurity.

She is an editor of the journal Planning Theory, the European Journal of Development Research, and is the Global South editor for Urban Studies. Her two recent books are: G Bhan, S Srinivas and V Watson Eds (2018): Routledge Companion to Planning in the Global South. Routledge: London and New York and Gunder, M., and A. Madanipour and V Watson (eds) (2018): The Routledge Handbook of Planning Theory. Routledge: New York and Abingdon. De Satge R and V Watson:  Urban Planning in the Global South: Conflicting rationalities in contested urban space, Palgrave, is forthcoming early 2018.

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