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Living on the Margins: Livelihoods and Urbanisation – Alison Brown, Cardiff University

By on October 12, 2016
Lecturer - profile

Alison Brown


Main affiliation
Cardiff University


United Kingdom

European Union



Alison Brown is Professor of Urban Planning and International Development in the School of Geography and Planning, where she heads the Informal Economy Research Observatory. She is an urban planner and development policy expert with extensive experience in academia and professional practice. Her research and consultancy focusses on urban planning and sustainability, governance, the Right to the City, urban livelihoods and the informal economy, and has included projects in 24 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. She is leading several large research projects on the informal economy under the ESRC/DFID Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation and the ESRC/DFID Growth Research Programme on: law, rights and regulation; access to finance for urban micro-enterprises, and economic recovery in post-conflict cities. She is a member of the Habitat III Policy Unit 1 on the Right to the City, and Cities for All.

Alison has published widely on the informal economy and rights-based approaches to development, with an edited book on Rebel Streets and the Informal Economy: Street Trade and the Law to be published early in 2017, and research reports for DFID’s Evidence on Demand series on Planning for Sustainable and Inclusive Cities in the Global South, and Livelihoods and Urbanisation. She is planning advisor to the global advocacy group, WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment, Globalizing and Organizing), editor of the Commonwealth e-Journal of Local Governance, and a board member of the NGO Reall (formerly Homeless International).

English Proficiency
Mother tongue

Previous experience of recording video lectures

Experience of lecturing to large audiences

Experience of lecturing to large audiences

Frequency of lectures
Very often

Recording opportunities
Habitat III attendance and availability
15-21 October


Main themes
Urban Management
Social Inclusion
Planning and Design

Living on the Margins: Livelihoods and Urbanisation

This lecture examines how precarious urban livelihoods in the informal economy can be transformed by innovative and inclusive urban policy.

Issues which the lecture addresses
The informal economy is the lifeblood of many cities today. It provides jobs for many urban workers, provides flexible services to urban residents, and makes significant contributions to urban economies. The informal economy demonstrates vibrancy, flexibility and entrepreneurship, and supports local supply chains and global exchange. However, diversity makes the informal economy hard to capture in conventional urban policy processes, and for many informal workers harassment, fines and evictions are a daily threat. This lecture addresses the challenges and opportunities that the informal economy presents.

Short analysis of the above issues
More than half the world’s population lives in cities, a proportion set to rise to two thirds by 2050. Between 2014 and 2050 the urban population is predicted to increase from 3.9 billion to 6.4 billion, with an estimated 95% of growth taking place in cities and towns of the global South. Secure and decent livelihoods are critical to ensuring that urban households can claim an equitable stake in urban life. Economic development policy has long prioritised macro-economic growth and focused on promoting jobs in formal urban economies. A major policy oversight has been the urban informal economy as a source of jobs and livelihoods. Despite its importance – in some cities up to 80% of the urban workforce in non-agricultural jobs works informally – clearances and evictions of workers are common.

Propositions for addressing the issue
In both the developing and developed world, the informal economy is huge, and its contribution to city economies and poverty reduction can no longer be ignored. Mainstreaming informal economy workers through inclusion and partnership can transform their lives, and make major contributions to city economies and urban services. The informal economic is the economic future of many cities.

Proposition 1: Inclusion needs a radical rethink of urban planning and policy paradigms, to provide a platform for informal workers in urban dialogues, and mainstream the informal economy in urban policies and strategies. Street vendors in India set up a national campaign resulting in the 2014 law on street vending that supported their livelihoods.

Proposition 2: Public space is a key place of work for street vendors, waste pickers and other informal economy workers. Participatory design can resolve conflicts, improve infrastructure and secure space for livelihoods, as experience in Durban demonstrates.

Proposition 3: Informal settlements are dynamic centres of economic activity, supporting vibrant and specialised economies. Understanding of the complexity of these specialised economies is now emerging, for example furniture making in Manzese, Dar es Salaam.

Proposition 4: Micro-practices matter. These should be context and sector specific, and developed in partnership between workers organisations, city governments and other urban actors. Wastepickers in Bangalore are now included in the city’s waste strategy, have ID cards and are managing waste collection sites.

Additional Reading Materials
Brown, A. (ed) (2017 accepted for publication) Rebel streets Rebel streets, informal economies and the law, Abingdon, Routledge

UN-Habitat (Brown, A. and Roever, S.) (2016) Enabling Productivity in the Urban Informal Economy, report launch, Habitat III, Quito, 2017

Brown, A. and Smith, A. (2016) Livelihoods and urbanisation, Topic Guide: Evidence on Demand, Commissioned research report for DFID, http://www.evidenceondemand.info/topic-guide-livelihoods-and-urbanisation

Draft presentation