Urban Informality: The Kasi Does It Best

Urban informality, often depicted as a hindrance to progress, is in fact a multifaceted phenomenon with untapped potential to foster inclusive urban development. Urban informality encompasses economic, social, and residential activities operating outside formal regulatory frameworks in urban areas, such as informal settlements, unregistered businesses, and street vending. By critically examining prevailing narratives and embracing the complexity of informality, we can unlock its transformative power and pave the way towards more equitable cities.

The Fallacy of Top-Down Approaches

Traditional approaches to urban informality, characterised by top-down interventions and punitive measures, have perpetuated cycles of marginalisation and exclusion. From forced evictions to crackdowns on informal businesses, these strategies have failed to address the root causes of informality while deepening social and economic inequalities.

Lessons from South Africa’s Kasinomics

In South Africa, the concept of “kasinomics” offers valuable insights into alternative approaches to urban informality. Kasinomics, coined by author GG Alcock, highlights the vibrant informal economies thriving in the country’s townships, or “kasis.” By tapping into the entrepreneurial spirit and community networks of these informal economies, kasinomics demonstrates the potential for bottom-up solutions to urban informality.

One of the key successes of kasinomics lies in its ability to foster economic resilience within township communities. Despite facing systemic barriers and limited access to formal employment, informal businesses in the kasi have thrived, providing essential goods and services to local residents while generating income and livelihoods. South Africa’s informal entrepreneurs exhibit a remarkable entrepreneurial spirit, seizing opportunities and innovating in response to market demand. They leverage community networks for support and draw upon the cultural vibrancy of township life to attract customers and tourists.

Lessons for Namibia

Namibia can learn valuable lessons from South Africa’s experience with kasinomics. Policymakers should recognise and support the contributions of informal businesses to local economies by streamlining registration processes, providing access to finance and training, and integrating informal businesses into formal supply chains. Namibia can also leverage existing community networks within informal settlements to support entrepreneurship and economic development. Initiatives that promote collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and collective action can help foster a supportive ecosystem for informal businesses to thrive. Additionally, celebrating and promoting the cultural diversity and heritage within informal settlements can drive economic development and social cohesion.

Advocates of Informality

Furthermore, there is a growing recognition among urban planners, policymakers, and researchers that informality is not merely a problem to be solved but a resource to be tapped into. Advocates of informality argue for policies and interventions that embrace the complexities and potentials of informal urban economies, rather than marginalising or eradicating them. By recognising the agency and resilience of informal workers and communities, advocating for inclusive governance structures, and prioritising intersectional approaches to urban development, advocates of informality seek to build cities that are more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable for all residents.

Conclusion: Embracing Complexity for Inclusive Cities

In sum, reimagining urban informality requires a critical examination of prevailing narratives and a shift towards inclusive and participatory approaches. By drawing lessons from initiatives like kasinomics in South Africa and prioritising empowerment and intersectionality, we can build cities that are not only economically prosperous but also socially just and environmentally sustainable. It’s time to embrace the complexity of urban informality and harness its transformative potential for the benefit of all urban residents.

Vivian !Nou-/Gawaseb is a town & regional planning technician based in Namibia. He is currently pursuing a postgraduate degree in the latter field and writes on spatial planning, urban governance and sustainable development. Reach him at nougawasebvivian@gmail.com

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