Street traders losing ‘right to shade’ under trees

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The daytime temperatures in Hyderabad can exceed 40C (100F), making shade from trees essential

Street vendors are increasingly being denied the “right to shade” under street trees in Hyderabad, India, a report suggests.

Urban trees play an important role in providing a comfortable work place for the city’s outdoor traders, said researchers.

They added that the urban poor’s food security was under threat if they lost access to local street vendors have been being displaced by redevelopments.

The findings have been published in the Landscape and Urban Planning journal.

The study was part of a report by Azim Premji University’s Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability to comprehend urban sustainability in Indian cities from the combined perspectives of ecology and social justice.

“It is quite evident, through multiple studies, that urban trees provide critical ecosystem services to cities across the globe,” explained co-author Sukanya Basu.

Hot in the city

However, she added that the needs of the most influenced by the trees were not taken into consideration.

“When we observe the streets of Indian cities, it is clear that street vendors are the among the most dependent on street trees, a highly vulnerable group who spend almost their whole working days outdoors in the hot sun,” Ms Basu observed.

“Interestingly, we could not find any literature that explores their relationships with trees.”

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Hyderbad is the capital of the southern India Telangana state, and a significant IT hub in South Asia

The team find the city of Hyderabad due to its extremely hot climate, which made it particularly difficult for street vendors to function outdoors.

Ms Basu added: “Given the backdrop of climate change and increasing urban heat island effects, street trees play an important role in making the daily lives of street vendors more comfortable.”

The study found street vendors were highly dependent on street trees, but their dependency was not only limited to shade, but to things such as emotional and spiritual well-being.

But the accessibility to street trees had been restricted for several reasons.

“We identified three broad challenges that limited the accessibility of street trees by vendors.

“First, there were only limited quantity of trees present on streets, of which a few were felled for various reasons, such as for instance road widening,” Ms Basu observed.

“Second, there is uneven segregation within the town. The Secunderabad street market, a highly popular street in Hyderabad, where vendor density is high, had the smallest amount of number of trees.

“In contrast, streets of Banjara Hills and Jubliee Hills (affluent commercial areas), with several huge canopy trees had few vendors [as a result of] its location.

“Finally, redevelopment, privatisation and gentrification of urban spaces has resulted in displacement of vendors from streets, or from trees on streets due to fences, walls and obstruction by guards.”

Food security

Ms Basu said street vendors played a “significant but under-recognised role in cities”, such as for instance providing basic security like food, clothing and other products and services, not only to the urban poor but additionally to other city, and shaping urban street culture.

But, she added: “Sadly, visions of ‘sustainable cities’ rarely include perceptions with this important urban group.”

“Town planners and policy makers need to include all voices in planning,” she urged.

“Planners and policy-makers need to understand the dependencies (personal, economic and cultural) of street vendors, and the vulnerabilities of the daily life, by using this insight to reframe the type of access to public spaces in Indian cities.

“Redevelopment, landscape designing and beautification projects cannot be done at the expense of groups like street vendors, who are not only especially marginalised, but also play a major role in shaping the economy and street culture of cities.”

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