In many European cities young African men line the streets selling knock-off Gucci bags and colourful scarves. Valencia is no exception. On any given Sunday (or Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…) you can stroll down the street and the sidewalks are packed with street vendors urging you to take a look at their offerings.
This is of course illegal.
As such the vendors are not big on photo-taking, hence the less than exceptional quality of this photo – apologies.
As one might expect, these public spaces are regulated by the city, and street vendors are required to have a license in order to peddle their wares. Yet in Valencia vendors appear to be more or less accepted by both the public and the authorities. Given that vendors are consistently set up in the same spots, if the police were interested in stopping them from selling, this would not be a difficult task.
Yet vendors do get harassed and therefore take the precaution of spreading their wares on blankets that they can quickly pull up should they need to make a fast move.
Funny how this practice appears more readily accepted in Europe than it is, for example, in Colombia. In Bogotá I consistently witnessed street vendors being harassed and chased by the police and they too employ a similar ‘blanket’ system for fast get-aways.
So, what to make of it?
On one hand, do we really need more commercial activity dominating our public spaces? From an optimistic point of view, zoning is an attempt to create some commercial-free space (among other things).
From a more pessimistic perspective, is this simply a reflection of further criminalization of poverty? For many who sell on the streets, this is one of the few avenues available to make an income (in Europe they are often illegal immigrants).
Not to mention that people LOVE their designer bags and illegal DVDS – if there was no market the vendors wouldn’t be there.
Speaking of markets, while I understand the appeal of brand-name bags and new scarves (I’ve been known to buy one or two of the latter myself), where is the market for the light-up toy cats that vendors are selling in reputable nighttime establishments? Because in addition to the street vendors, there are also men who invade the bars, selling roses, lighters and the most absurd knickknacks I have ever seen. Which makes me more curious than anything else.
Please tell me, who is casually sitting at the bar with their friends thinking to themselves, “If only I could get me some sparkly toys to go with my witty repartee?”
Really, who buys this:
While I have mixed feelings about street vendors and their use of public spaces, I am clear on one thing – we must immediately figure out how to zone Hello Kitty products out of the city!
What can I say, I’ve never liked cats.