Sunday, July 24, 2011

where the other half shops

It's a class war. That's the unmistakeable conclusion from reading SPOILED, a new report by the Street Vendor Project in New York City, detailing the city's unequal treatment of the vendors in the Forsyth Street Market in Chinatown and the Union Square Greenmarket, uptown near 14th Street. The report shows that the city issues an astonishing 500 Environmental Control Board violations a year to the Forsyth Street vendors (that's more than 1 a day). And most of those violations were for spurious supposed problems like stacking crates on the ground or having ones vending cart in the wrong location, or hoisting a tarp overhead to block the hot sun. In the crackdown on Forsyth Street, officials have destroyed produce, confiscated pushcarts, and issued criminal citations to the vendors. In upscale Union Square, by contrast, merchants are largely immune from this kind of enforcement, and are not even required to have licenses to sell on the street.

Here's how the Street Vendor Project categorizes the selective enforcement: "There are two worlds in New York City, and the difference between them is the difference between the Union Square Greenmarket, where foodies peruse organic heirloom tomatoes at $4 per pound, and the Forsyth Street Market in Chinatown, under the Manhattan Bridge, where $4 will get you three pounds of onions, a pound of peppers,  three pounds of bok choy, and  a couple mangoes. With a dragon fruit thrown if you speak Chinese. While the City rightly supports markets like at Union Square, it gave nearly 2,000 tickets to vendors at Forsyth Street Market the past two years, in addition to arrests, confiscation of produce, seizures of carts and equipment, and illegal parking restrictions. Why the unequal treatment? Unlike at Union Square,  the immigrants who work and shop at Forsyth Street – 94% of them Asian-American — have no voice."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

what would fake steve jobs say?

Taking the idea of piracy to a whole new level, the blog birdabroad documents the existence of three cloned Apple Stores in the Chinese city of Kunming. It's not clear from the post if the counterfeit stores are selling knock-off products, or if these fake Apple Stores sell real Apple gizmos.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

crime and punishment

The sentence? 90 days in jail. The crime? Selling yams and onions on the street. PeaceFM has the details of this perverse non-justice in Accra, Ghana.

the network of rice wine merchants

The New York Times offers a fascinating glimpse into the Fujianese trade in home-brewed rice wine in New York's Chinatown. It's illegal, according to New York law, but it's a tradition back in Fujian. Perhaps because the producers fear a New York clampdown, the reporters were able to order the sub-rosa rice wine in restaurants, but were not able to meet any of the people who made the brew, which apparently varies in quality from fine sherry to lousy vinegar.

Tanzania depends on informal economy

Some sensible talk from East Africa. A columnist in The Citizen, a paper from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, notes how much the country depends on machingas--the local patois for informal traders and street hawkers.
Money Quote: It’s an undisputed fact that both Machingas and peasant farmers play a considerable role within the economy, from the personal and household to the national and international levels. Whatever is said to the contrary by detractors and others with vested interests of one kind or another, Machinga activity brings sustenance to untold millions of otherwise ‘jobless’ youths and their dependents countrywide. They form an important component of the informal economy, accounting for around a third of the greater Economy – whose total real GDP is $22bn, and employs 22 per cent of the workforce. In the event, it’s most distressing to see municipal ‘law enforcement officers’ harassing petty traders and destroying or carting away their merchandise to ‘destinations unknown, fate indeterminable!’

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Shadow Economy in California and New York

The New York Times had two recent articles highlighting the creativity of the informal economy. The first, which appeared in the July 5 edition, pointed out the existence of thriving 'pop-up' used car lots in Southern California. OK: so they're not exactly lots. But the idea is that entrepreneurs are parking cars on streets where parking is allowed on the weekends and putting price tags in the windows. Merchants complain that the unofficial sales outlets are stealing parking spaces their customers should be able to use. Los Angeles County officials apparently agree, and have proposed an ordinance making it illegal to put a for-sale notice on any parked car on certain streets. "This attempt to use the street as a place of business creates a hazard for businesses and residents," LA supervisor Gloria Molina told the paper.

The second Times article, which ran in the dining section on July 6th, was a profile of Cooking Channel host Ben Sargent. The paper reported that Sargent, now the star of 'Hook, Line, and Dinner' on the cable outlet, recently "hawked samizdat lobster rolls out of his apartment," using the alter-ego "Dr. Claw, a Beantown-accented seafood gangsta." Sargent operated an unofficial lobster restaurant and home delivery service from his Brooklyn apartment, but ended his stint as Dr. Claw after being challenged by the fire department and receiving a cease-and-desist letter from the NYC health department.

So, let's try to get this straight: you can sell a car if you put a sign in your driveway but if you're an apartment dweller without an off-street slot, you can't pop a sign in your car window. Similarly, you can make and serve lobster rolls to 100 friends without a license but can't sell the same lobster rolls to 100 customers.