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Skinner, Caroline  (2009) Warwick Mall crisis for traders and for Durban’s vision. Eye on Civil Society : -.

Many informal traders and other citizens of Durban have sent a strong message to the City that they are not happy with the strip mall proposed for our primary transport hub – the Warwick Junction.

At a public meeting last Wednesday over 600 participants sang protest songs voicing discontent. Yesterday, protesters who were banned from marching to City Hall demanded the municipality ‘find somewhere else to build their mall’.

The site for the new mall was initially over the railway lines adjacent to the Berea Station. Without any explanation the site switched to the Early Morning Market. This fresh produce market was established in 1910 and is a listed building.

The Market has 673 trading sites and over 50 market gardeners sell their produce from here. These traders supply other informal traders throughout the city and are thus an important part of the city-wide fresh produce distribution chain.

By month end, the City threatens to move the traders to temporary accommodation and there is no information about where they might be accommodated in the longer term. The new site is out of the way and has no facilities. There is space for only 170 traders. Accordingly, the traders have resolved that they will not budge.

On a busy day it is estimated that there as many as 8000 street and market traders that operate out of Warwick. There are many others working to support this trade – barrow operators, suppliers of tables, paraffin and shopping bags.

Our research shows that earnings from these very small businesses support large numbers of households located in poorer parts of the city.

In addition to concern for the particular plight of Early Morning Market traders, there are a number of issues that as citizens of Durban we should be raising about both the content and process these plans.

The City claims that the redevelopment will only affect Early Morning Market traders and the 185 traders who work directly around the proposed site.

But any trader, formal or informal, will tell you that their business depends on passing feet. The proposals will result in the redesign of the area ensuring that the current foot traffic, estimated at 460 000 commuters a day, is directed past the formal rather than the informal traders.

This will seriously impact on the viability of all street and market traders in the Junction.
In addition the new development will introduce 30 000 square metres of formal shops including a large supermarket chain. The informal traders are unlikely to be able to compete with these formal retailers.

In 1997, the City established the Warwick Junction Urban Renewal Project. This area based management initiative has become a model of how to manage, support and provide infrastructure for street traders.

Over the years the project has received a number of awards most recently in 2008 the UN Habitat / Dubai International Award for Good Practice.

It is this track record of inclusive planning that has previously helped give substance to the eThekwini Municipality’s aspiration to be “Africa’s most caring and livable city”.
The City had a track record of continuous negotiations with traders in this area. And yet in this case the first consultation about this new Mall was held on February 18, even though construction is meant to commence in early June. Traders said that they were not consulted but instead presented with a fait accompli.

There are a number of other problems with this process. The environmental impact assessment (EIA) that was done was for the site over the railway lines. No new EIA has been conducted despite the fact that the site has changed. The original EIA in fact outlines the importance of the Early Morning Market to the city.

There was no call by the City for expressions of interest when this valuable public land was to be released nor was there a public tendering process. Also no existing traders are included in the share ownership of the black economic empowerment consortium driving this development.

The first designs of the proposed new mall omitted to include any traders. Durban’s central business district was in fact to be transformed into a sanitized American-style inner city.

The more recent architectural drawings do pay lip service to integrating traders. The design, however, is essentially an enclosed box with blank facades. Local architects describe this as ‘inappropriate form’, contributing ‘nothing to the streetscape’.

All agree that there is need for continual investment into this district. In the past decade the City demonstrated its commitment to continuous upgrading in the Warwick area with the traders and commuters at the heart of decision making.

The proposed allocation of an additional R100 million of funds in support of development in the area is positive. But it should surely not be used to subsidise the narrow interests of large formal businesses.

In cities the world over, markets are celebrated as an integral element of the urban fabric. In Durban we have a market that is not only a remnant of a by-gone age but continues to play a critical role at the core of the lives of the majority of Durban’s residents.

Supplanting the Early Morning Market with a publicly subsidised retail mall will only serve to further marginalise the urban poor.

Deputy mayor Logie Naidoo claims a win-win solution is possible. However, the content and process of the current proposals are fundamentally flawed. No one will win if in our vision for Durban, the interests of the majority of poorer citizens do not feature.

Caroline Skinner is a researcher based at the School of Development Studies, at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal. She is also Director of Urban Policies for the Global Research-Policy network Women in Informal Employment: Globalising and Organising.

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