Usually defined by their open-air settings, diverse offerings, local and independent sellers, temporary nature, and acting as social hubs, street markets have been around for thousands of years. From the days of the Roman Forum to the Silk Road and the markets of ancient Greece, they are undoubtedly essential parts of urban life, or “the center of all that is unofficial.” Mostly categorized under the informal economy due to lack of regulations and authorization, street markets in the global south have often been seen as a threat to urban development. However, these erratic and adaptive urban spaces serve core functions in any developing city, acting as pillars of community in many different facets of society.
Policymakers and city officials have long struggled with informality, considering it the “antithesis of modernity.” Conventionally, the informal economy consists of activities with market value but are not formally registered, often unregulated, undocumented, and operating outside the incentive system offered by the state. Street vendors, specifically in the global south, constitute a substantial portion of the informal economy. Moreover, as cities grow and approach development, public spaces become more contested and privatized, leading to an overall mission to remove street markets or push them into formalization.