This morning, a packed room of network members from around the world took part in a pre-symposium session that looked at an area of the urban economy often hidden from planning’s view: informal livelihoods. We heard from three very different cities – Vancouver, Porto Alegre (Brazil), and Durban (South Africa) – about how they interact with the informal economy taking place in their downtown cores.
Following the presentations, the group had a great exchange of experiences supporting informal livelihoods. Participants asked questions about financing social enterprises, discussed the pros and cons about formalizing the informal economy, and shared ideas about engaging informal workers who rarely get involved in traditional planning processes.
While many different solutions were offered, one cross cutting theme was the need to meet people where they are; the best results came from working with the informal sector in their space and on their time, and focusing on what they bring to the community rather than how they can fit into our idea of where and what the community should be.
The day ended with an inspiring visit to United We Can, Vancouver’s inner city recycling social enterprise. Founder Ken Lyotier showed the group around the bustling recycling collection centre and shared the basic lessons he learned from his fifteen years running the social enterprise, “There is a lot more going on than just money crossing the counter. We build a community here, people talk to each other. And then they talk to the people outside when they go out in the streets. Human relationships are built between human beings face to face, after all.”
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