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Claiming the Streets: Property Rights and Legal Empowerment in the Urban Informal Economy


  • Brown, Alison


This paper looks at the concept of law and urban development with a focus on property rights and land, exploring the potential collective rights in the public domain to underpin a more equitable approach to the management of public space and challenge inappropriate regulation that criminalizes the lives of the poor. The focus is on street trade and the informal economy. The hypotheses are that: collective use rights extend to public land and are crucial to the livelihoods of the urban poor; such use provides public good as well as private profit, and legal traditions in sub-Saharan Africa can often accommodate the broad definition of rights entailed. The literature review interrogates debates on property rights, legal empowerment, and public space, to suggest that urban public space should be considered as a common resource where open access remains. Fieldwork draws on comparative studies of Dakar, Senegal, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, based on in-depth interviews with street traders and key informants, and a legal review in each city.

Suggested Citation

  • Brown, Alison, 2015. "Claiming the Streets: Property Rights and Legal Empowerment in the Urban Informal Economy," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 76(C), pages 238-248.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:wdevel:v:76:y:2015:i:c:p:238-248
    DOI: 10.1016/j.worlddev.2015.07.001

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Elinor Ostrom & Charlotte Hess, 2010. "Private and Common Property Rights," Chapters,in: Property Law and Economics, chapter 4 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    2. McGranahan, Gordon, 2015. "Realizing the Right to Sanitation in Deprived Urban Communities: Meeting the Challenges of Collective Action, Coproduction, Affordability, and Housing Tenure," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 68(C), pages 242-253.
    3. Michal Lyons & Alison Brown & Colman Msoka, 2012. "(Why) Have Pro‐Poor Policies Failed Africa'S Working Poor?," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 24(8), pages 1008-1029, November.
    4. Joireman, S.F., 2008. "The Mystery of Capital Formation in Sub-Saharan Africa: Women, Property Rights and Customary Law," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 36(7), pages 1233-1246, July.
    5. Lyons, Michal & Brown, Alison, 2010. "Has Mercantilism Reduced Urban Poverty in SSA? Perception of Boom, Bust, and the China-Africa Trade in Lomé and Bamako," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 38(5), pages 771-782, May.
    6. Alison Brown & Michal Lyons & Ibrahima Dankoco, 2010. "Street Traders and the Emerging Spaces for Urban Voice and Citizenship in African Cities," Urban Studies, Urban Studies Journal Limited, vol. 47(3), pages 666-683, March.
    7. Mwangi, Esther, 2007. "Subdividing the Commons: Distributional Conflict in the Transition from Collective to Individual Property Rights in Kenya's Maasailand," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 35(5), pages 815-834, May.
    8. Caroline Skinner, 2008. "The struggle for the streets: processes of exclusion and inclusion of street traders in Durban, South Africa," Development Southern Africa, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 25(2), pages 227-242.
    9. Michal Lyons & Colman Titus Msoka, 2010. "The World Bank and the Street: (How) Do ‘Doing Business’ Reforms Affect Tanzania’s Micro-traders?," Urban Studies, Urban Studies Journal Limited, vol. 47(5), pages 1079-1097, May.
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