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The Ordinary City and the Extraordinary City: The Challenges of Planning for the Everyday

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Recent work on informal urbanism argues that 'informality' is a strong force in determining and shaping how cities in the global south grow, and hence needs to be a part of emergent urban theory. This paper uses this argument as a starting point, drawing upon the work of scholars who suggest that urban informality may have an organizing logic, a system of norms that emerge from the economic conditions and the social needs of people. Specifically, this paper examines informality in the urban space as an outcome of spatial and economic changes in a market precinct in Bangalore. It finds that activities in the street are temporal in nature. In this paper, the ordinary city encapsulates how people use urban spaces on an everyday basis and the extraordinary city reflects how urban spaces are transformed during a periodic, religious and cultural festival. The paper makes two key contributions, one, to show through an in-depth spatial ethnographic study how the 'ordinary-extraordinary' might help us understand informal urbanism and two, to propose that it may be useful to have intermediate levels of planning that incorporate the conditions of the 'ordinary' city as well as the 'extraordinary' city, thereby contributing to both theory and practice.
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ISSN 2455-5886 | Azim Premji University, Working Paper
Working Paper No. 15
Research Area: Development
Azim Premji University
Kiran Keswani and
Suresh Bhagavatula
The Ordinary City and the
Extraordinary City: The Challenges of
Planning for the Everyday
ISSN 2455-5886 | Azim Premji University, Working Paper
Working Paper No. 15
Research Area: Development
March 2020
Azim Premji University
Kiran Keswani and
Suresh Bhagavatula
The Ordinary City and the
Extraordinary City: The Challenges of
Planning for the Everyday
Azim Premji
University
ISSN 2455-5886 | Azim Premji University, Working Paper
Working Paper No. 15
Research Area: Development
March 2020
Azim Premji University
Kiran Keswani and
Suresh Bhagavatula
The Ordinary City and the
Extraordinary City: The Challenges of
Planning for the Everyday
Azim Premji
University
April 2020
Kiran Keswani and Suresh Bhagavatula (2020).
The Ordinary City and the Extraordinary City: The Challenges of
Planning for the Everyday (Working Paper No. 15).
© 2020 Azim Premji University.
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The Ordinary City and the Extraordinary City:
The Challenges of Planning for the Everyday1
Kiran Keswani and Suresh Bhagavatula2
Abstract: Recent work on informal urbanism argues that ‘informality’ is a strong force in
determining and shaping how cities in the global south grow, and hence needs to be a part of
emergent urban theory. This paper uses this argument as a starting point, drawing upon the
work of scholars who suggest that urban informality may have an organizing logic, a system of
norms that emerge from the economic conditions and the social needs of people.
Specically, this paper examines informality in the urban space as an outcome of spatial and
economic changes in a market precinct in Bangalore. It nds that activities in the street are
temporal in nature. In this paper, the ordinary city encapsulates how people use urban spaces
on an everyday basis and the extraordinary city reects how urban spaces are transformed
during a periodic, religious and cultural festival.
The paper makes two key contributions, one, to show through an in-depth spatial ethnographic
study how the ‘ordinary–extraordinary’ might help us understand informal urbanism and two,
to propose that it may be useful to have intermediate levels of planning that incorporate the
conditions of the ‘ordinary’ city as well as the ‘extraordinary’ city, thereby contributing to both
theory and practice.
Keywords: informal urbanism, urban informality, urban space, spatial ethnography, everyday
practices
1 We are especially grateful to Maria Monica (Research Associate, Everyday City Lab) for gathering
the data pertaining to the extraordinary day. We would like to thank Prof. Purnendu Kavoori
and Ms. Sujatha Puranik for encouraging us to submit this paper as a part of the Working Paper
Series at the Azim Premji University and for the feedback we received from both the internal and
external reviewers. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the annual conference of
the Centre for Public Policy, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore in 2018 and at the CEPT
Research Symposium, Ahmedabad in February 2019, and we are grateful to our reviewers and
fellow participants for their comments.
2 Corresponding author: kiranmkeswani@gmail.com
The Ordinary City and the Extraordinary City:
The Challenges of Planning for the Everyday1
Kiran Keswani2 and Suresh Bhagavatula
Abstract: Recent work on informal urbanism argues that ‘informality’ is a strong force in
determining and shaping how cities in the global south grow, and hence needs to be a part of
emergent urban theory. This paper uses this argument as a starting point, drawing upon the
work of scholars who suggest that urban informality may have an organizing logic, a system of
norms that emerge from the economic conditions and the social needs of people.
Specically, this paper examines informality in the urban space as an outcome of spatial and
economic changes in a market precinct in Bangalore. It nds that activities in the street are
temporal in nature. In this paper, the ordinary city encapsulates how people use urban spaces
on an everyday basis and the extraordinary city reects how urban spaces are transformed
during a periodic, religious and cultural festival.
The paper makes two key contributions, one, to show through an in-depth spatial ethnographic
study how the ‘ordinary–extraordinary’ might help us understand informal urbanism and two,
to propose that it may be useful to have intermediate levels of planning that incorporate the
conditions of the ‘ordinary’ city as well as the ‘extraordinary’ city, thereby contributing to both
theory and practice.
Keywords: informal urbanism, urban informality, urban space, spatial ethnography, everyday
practices
1 We are especially grateful to Maria Monica (Research Associate, Everyday City Lab) for gathering
the data pertaining to the extraordinary day. We would like to thank Prof. Purnendu Kavoori
and Ms. Sujatha Puranik for encouraging us to submit this paper as a part of the Working Paper
Series at the Azim Premji University and for the feedback we received from both the internal and
external reviewers. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the annual conference of
the Centre for Public Policy, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore in 2018 and at the CEPT
Research Symposium, Ahmedabad in February 2019, and we are grateful to our reviewers and
fellow participants for their comments.
2 Corresponding author: kiranmkeswani@gmail.com
The Ordinary City and the Extraordinary City:
The Challenges of Planning for the Everyday1
Kiran Keswani and Suresh Bhagavatula2
Abstract: Recent work on informal urbanism argues that ‘informality’ is a strong force in
determining and shaping how cities in the global south grow, and hence needs to be a part of
emergent urban theory. This paper uses this argument as a starting point, drawing upon the
work of scholars who suggest that urban informality may have an organizing logic, a system of
norms that emerge from the economic conditions and the social needs of people.
Specically, this paper examines informality in the urban space as an outcome of spatial and
economic changes in a market precinct in Bangalore. It nds that activities in the street are
temporal in nature. In this paper, the ordinary city encapsulates how people use urban spaces
on an everyday basis and the extraordinary city reects how urban spaces are transformed
during a periodic, religious and cultural festival.
The paper makes two key contributions, one, to show through an in-depth spatial ethnographic
study how the ‘ordinary–extraordinary’ might help us understand informal urbanism and two,
to propose that it may be useful to have intermediate levels of planning that incorporate the
conditions of the ‘ordinary’ city as well as the ‘extraordinary’ city, thereby contributing to both
theory and practice.
Keywords: informal urbanism, urban informality, urban space, spatial ethnography, everyday
practices
1 We are especially grateful to Maria Monica (Research Associate, Everyday City Lab) for gathering
the data pertaining to the extraordinary day. We would like to thank Prof. Purnendu Kavoori
and Ms. Sujatha Puranik for encouraging us to submit this paper as a part of the Working Paper
Series at the Azim Premji University and for the feedback we received from both the internal and
external reviewers. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the annual conference of
the Centre for Public Policy, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore in 2018 and at the CEPT
Research Symposium, Ahmedabad in February 2019, and we are grateful to our reviewers and
fellow participants for their comments.
2 Corresponding author: kiranmkeswani@gmail.com
The Ordinary City and the Extraordinary City:
The Challenges of Planning for the Everyday
Kiran Keswani and Suresh Bhagavatula
Introduction
In reecting upon how ‘theory’ might emerge, one learns that the term originated in 1592 from
the Greek theoria, which means ‘contemplation or a looking at’, and later in 1638 was dened as ‘an
explanation based on observation and reasoning’.3 This paper attempts such an observation of the
everyday in order to make contributions to both urban theory and practice. The paper suggests that
in the global south, the street acts not only as a ‘connector’ for people and cars to move, but also
as a ‘container’ that holds the everyday practices of its people. It examines the everyday routines,
activities, or practices that are enacted in the street space as a way to theorize about informality
using ground-level data. In this study, informality is understood as the use of an urban space for
facilitating functions for which it is not ofcially designated. In the countries of the global south,
since there are fewer ‘planned’ public spaces (such as parks, squares, marketplaces, playgrounds,
and so on), the street becomes the container of social, cultural, religious, economic, and political
practices in addition to being a connector for the movement of people and vehicles, thus becoming
the predominant ‘public space’ in the city.
In referring to ‘economic practices’ that contribute to the ‘everyday’, the paper makes a detailed
observation of the informal vending activities at the neighbourhood level. These practices are
embedded in the informal economy and point to an understanding of the city that is different from
the one that regards economic liberalization and changes in formal economic ows and processes
as transforming the local identity and autonomy of urban spaces into the ‘global city’ that Amin
& Graham (1997) draw our attention to. They remind us that we need to return to the idea of the
urban, as the co-existence of multiple spaces, multiple times, and multiple webs of relations that tie
3 https://orgtheory.wordpress.com/2006/07/11/etymology-of-theory/ (accessed on 8 January 2020)
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these local sites into globalizing networks of economic, social, and cultural change. Further, they
suggest that there cannot be hierarchical relations amongst cities across the world because any city
is creative, just and multiplex in nature and contributes equally to a changing global scenario. It is
this approach in reading the city that Amin & Graham (1997) term the ‘ordinary city’. In reinforcing
and extending this understanding, Robinson (2013) adopts a perspective that views all cities as
unique combinations of social, political, and economic congurations, and thus seeing them as
ordinary, suggesting that such an approach could strengthen policies that address both economic
growth and social inequality.
While these conceptualizations of the ‘ordinary city’ (Amin & Graham, 1997; Robinson, 2013) focus
on eliminating the labelling of cities as ‘global’ or ‘world’ cities, or as ‘Third world’ or ‘developing
cities’, this paper proposes the idea of a binary, ‘ordinary–extraordinary’, as a lens for understanding
how people shape the city through their everyday and periodic activities in public spaces. In this
paper, the ordinary city encapsulates how people use urban spaces on an everyday basis and the
extraordinary city reects how urban spaces are transformed during a periodic, religious and cultural
festival. The conceptualization of the ‘ordinary–extraordinary’ binary begins from the need to
observe and record the everyday and periodic activities of people, and to understand how these
result in changes within the urban space. Here, the ‘everyday’ is seen as being synonymous with the
‘ordinary’ or the mundane, that which is part of our daily routine but which goes unnoticed, both
by citizens and planners.
If we were to look at the element of ordinariness in the activities of people going about their daily
business as a point of comparison for every city, then we nd that no city is different from any
other city. But the functioning of some cities is disrupted because of a periodic occurrence related
to a social or cultural happening. In Bangalore, it may be the Ramzan or Christmas celebrations that
disrupt the everyday functioning of a specic neighbourhood. In Bunol, in eastern Spain, it is La
Tomatina festival in which people get involved in a tomato ght on the streets as a yearly tradition.
In another city in a different part of the world, the event may be something else. So, the construct
of the ‘ordinary’ which seems to have levelled out all cities (Amin & Graham, 1997; Robinson, 2013)
doesn’t play out as ‘ordinary’ on an everyday basis. There needs to be a binary term that can be
appended to it, a ‘contradiction’ (McFarlane, 2018), in order to suggest that some cities have a certain
extraordinariness that emerges in these cities on particular days. And people either from the same
neighbourhood or from different neighbourhoods or cities come in and change the characteristics of
that everyday (space) in that particular instance (time). In this sense, the ‘ordinary’ examined in this
paper may be seen as not being entirely different from that of Ash Amin & Graham and Robinson,
but rather as an extension of this idea. There is a need for scholars and practitioners to study both
ordinariness and extraordinariness that characterize and belong to the city.
Further, this paper argues that the everyday practices of people must be considered in our planning
processes. Of these practices, the economic practices seem to occur everyday and therefore, belong
more to the realm of the ‘ordinary’. In contrast, social, cultural, and religious practices occur
3
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periodically, and at specic times of the year, and hence are dened as ‘extraordinary’. These two
sets of practices occur at different times of the day or year but occur within the same street space.
Both share interdependencies, where sometimes one displaces the other for a given period of time.
In order to develop a more nuanced plan, one needs to embed a comprehensive understanding of
the social and physical fabric of the city into it and hence the ‘ordinary–extraordinary’ binary may
be a useful tool in the preparation of a local area plan.
Thus, the paper makes two key contributions: rst, it shows through an in-depth ethnographical
study how the ‘ordinary–extraordinary’ binary might be able to help us understand informal
urbanism and second, it argues that it may be useful to have intermediate levels of planning that
can incorporate the conditions of the ‘ordinary’ city as well as the ‘extraordinary’ city.
Theoretical perspective
To understand the construct of the ‘ordinary city’, we begin with the work of de Certeau (1984) who
emphasizes that ordinary people navigate through their environments through their everyday
actions and alter urban space in active ways. In dening ‘everyday practices’, he suggests that these
comprise the ‘tactics’ of walkers and consumers and the ‘strategies’ of planners and administrators.
Based on this notion, the concept of ‘everyday urbanism’ (Chase, Crawford & Kaliski, 1999) was
proposed which is an approach to urbanism that looks for meaning in everyday life.
McFarlane & Silver (2017) have argued that everyday urbanism is generated dialectically through
a continuing and co-evolving process of contradiction, reinforcement, fragmentation, and
reconstitution. This is further extrapolated into the idea of ‘Fragment Urbanism’ by McFarlane
(2018), which suggests that this kind of urbanism may result from material fragments or the
byproducts of urbanization such as insufcient infrastructure or informal settlements, where the
whole from which the part is broken off may not exist anymore or may have become redundant.
Here the ‘fragments’ could be seen as the remnants of villages, both physical and social, that have
now been enveloped or incorporated by the city. For instance, the city of Bangalore has been
absorbing many villages into its urban fabric for centuries. From 1901 to 1971, the area of the city
increased from 20.7 sq. miles to 60 sq. miles and approximately 100 villages were absorbed into the
city structure (Prakasa Rao & Tewari, 1979). In 2001, the proposed metropolitan area was 124 sq.
miles and an additional 218 villages were located within it (Nair, 2005).
Urban researchers have argued that a more global urban theory can emerge if we change the way in
which informality is understood through transcending, rst, disciplinary boundaries; second, the way
it is seen as separate from the formal; and third, the relation between informality and neoliberalism
(Acuto, Dinardi & Marx, 2019). This paper is an empirical investigation into the everyday practices
that constitute informal urbanism in the global south. It suggests that understanding everyday
practices could be one way of knowing our cities better in the contemporary context, both in the
global south and in the global north. The empirical evidence it provides aims to achieve the analytical
precision (Marx & Kelling, 2019) required to understand urban dynamics at the neighbourhood
level and to further strengthen the broader understanding of urban informality (Roy & AlSayyad,
2004; Dovey, 2012; McFarlane, 2012; Schindler, 2014, 2017; Boudreau & Davis, 2017).
4Working Paper Series - The Ordinary City and the Extraordinary City: The Challenges of Planning for the Everyday
Recent scholarly work on ‘informal urbanism’ has focused on a creative remapping of the informal
in cultural policy (Mbaye & Dinardi, 2019), on challenging the reading of the informal as ‘everyday’
(Cirolia & Scheba, 2019), on examining how informality operates as a legitimate practice within
the system of urban governance (Carrero et al., 2019), and on understanding how informality has
become part of an everyday social contract (Canclini, 2019). This paper builds on this work and, in
particular, it draws upon the construct of the ‘common denominator’ proposed by Marx & Kelling
(2019), who argue that to distinguish between the formal and the informal as a binary, it is useful to
have a mechanism that can allow scholars or policy makers to identify two phenomena as a coherent
binary pair that ‘makes sense’. They explain this through the example of ‘informal settlement’,
which makes sense in opposition to ‘formal settlement’, because, they say, it is held together by
assumptions about property rights, but it may not make sense in opposition to ‘refugee settlement’.
This paper identies everyday practices of people in the street as the ‘common denominator’ to
strengthen the ordinary–extraordinary binary in order to unpack urban informality.
In terms of socio-economic changes, there is a cyclical rhythm in both the ordinary city and
extraordinary city with the everyday repetition of vending activities giving way to the periodic
repetition of festival-related activities. In his work on Rhythmanalysis, Lefebvre (2004) draws our
attention to the rhythm embedded in the repetition and differences of people’s movements in space
and time. He suggests that time and space, representing the cyclical and the linear respectively,
share a reciprocal relationship. Based on this proposition, in terms of spatial changes, both the
ordinary city and the extraordinary city work in a linear mode where public space shapes itself in
one way, not necessarily repeating the change again in the same way the next time around. Here,
there may also be a shifting of boundaries to either expand or contract the territories of different
users. The ordinary and the extraordinary thus interlock both in space and time.
Earlier studies have examined the idea of the ‘extraordinary city’, particularly in the South Asian
context, focusing on the role of periodic festivals in shaping the city (Burdett, 2013; Mehrotra, 2008;
Mehrotra & Vera, 2015; Quinn, 2013; Sassen, 2005). Although Quinn’s work focuses on arts festivals,
it provides us a review of the existing literature on urban festivals. He argues that the social value
of festivals has been disregarded by city authorities and that there is a need to devise appropriate
policies based on more empirical research. Mehrotra (2008) suggests that there are two distinct
cities in the developing world, the static city and the kinetic city. He proposes that architecture is
the spectacle of the static city whereas festivals, religious processions, and community celebrations
make the kinetic city. He considers the static city as being built of permanent material and as being
monumental in nature (referring to the formal built environment), while he sees the kinetic city
as being built of temporary material and as being a temporal entity (referring to the informal built
environment such as housing settlements or temporary constructions erected during festivals).
While the static–kinetic binary reads the city in terms of its built spaces, suggesting that the ‘static’ is
the permanent built environment and the ‘kinetic’ is the temporary built environment, the focus of
the ordinary–extraordinary binary is on the unbuilt spaces. It represents the spatial congurations
and economic changes in the unbuilt space, that is, the streets of the city.
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In many countries of the global south, the most important instrument of urban planning has been
the city master plan, which, however, has not been the most appropriate tool for cities that have
social, cultural, and religious practices that continue to be embedded in their urban spaces. In the
past, Geddes (1915) has pointed out that planners in India, both imperial city planners and small-
town planners, ignored the cultural and structural principles of indigenous organization, instead
adopting planning principles devised for English manufacturing towns. More recent scholarship
points out that India’s urban growth has been so rapid and chaotic that it has not been possible for
planners to cope with it (Baviskar, 2003; Benjamin, 2008; Chakrabarti, 2001; Kudva, 2009; Ravindra
et al., 2010; Roy, 2009).
This paper argues that the planning process has not been able to account for the everyday and
periodic activities on the streets due to their ever-changing nature and because they have not been
sufciently documented or analyzed. The master plan as a tool of urban planning has been a static
one and not a dynamic one, being primarily developed and deployed as a land-use plan. It has either
not acknowledged the presence of the economic practices situated on the streets, that is, informal
vending, or has failed to recognize the changing nature and shifting relevance of these economic
practices. For instance, Delhi’s master plan of 1990 recorded the presence of street vendors, but
the master plan of 2010 did not recognize these spaces (Schindler, 2014). As Kudva (2009) points
out, in the cities of the global south, the master plan tends to include spaces that belong more
to the imagination of urban planners and policy makers and less to how city dwellers generate
spatial practices. Hence it is important to understand these practices in order to, rst, develop a
theoretical construct, and second, to include this construct in urban planning processes.
Therefore, the key research question this study asks is:
How do we unpack the ordinary and the extraordinary city in order to derive relational measures that can
contribute to both theory and practice?
Research setting: Russell Market precinct
This study focuses on a market precinct in the city of Bangalore. Today, Bangalore is one of the
fastest growing cities in India, with a population estimated in the last census in 2011 at 8.5 million.4
The Russell Market precinct lies in an inner-city core that was part of the Cantonment during the
period of colonial rule. Historically, Bangalore has been a city with two inner cores: the older Pete
area - the traditional fort settlement and the newer Cantonment or civil and military station. In
contrast to the old city, the Cantonment had broad, tree-lined avenues forming its central axis that
facilitate spectacles of military power as well as spacious European bungalows that changed the
relationship between public space and social life in the city (Nair, 2005).
4 https://www.census2011.co.in/census/city/448-bangalore.html
6Working Paper Series - The Ordinary City and the Extraordinary City: The Challenges of Planning for the Everyday
Today, the neighbourhood has a mixed population of Christians, Muslims, and Hindus, with
temples, mosques, and churches. Hence the market precinct serves as the site for the celebration
of all the festivals of these religious communities. The study examines the ‘ordinary’ or everyday
activities occurring along the stretch of Noronha Road extending from the Russell Market building
to St. Mary’s Basilica as well as at the three nodes—Russell Market square, Basilica junction, and
the Taj Hotel junction (Figure 1). The ‘extraordinary’ activities are traced through looking at
events taking place at the Basilica junction during Christmas and the Taj Hotel junction during
the month of Ramzan.
Spatial ethnography as methodology
Spatial ethnography is a methodology that combines social science research and physical spatial
analysis (Kim, 2015; Kawano et al., 2016), and therefore entails the gathering of both visual and
interview data. In the past, ethnographies of public space have typically focused on getting to know
the actors within the space. Kim (2015) uses spatial ethnography as well as critical cartography to
study sidewalks in Ho Chi Minh City while Duneier & Carter (1999) use it to investigate how street
life and political economy intersect in New York City.
Figure 1: Plan of Shivajinagar neighbourhood showing the sites of ordinary activities
(Noronha Road) and extraordinary activities [the Russell Market square (1), Basilica
junction (2), and Taj Hotel junction (3), i.e. sites of Ramzan and Christmas celebrations].
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This paper is an ethnographic investigation that rst, gathers visual evidence of the locational
dynamics on the normal day and the festival day, and, second, conducts interviews with vendors
to understand how they choose these locations, in order to understand the logic of locational
choice (Keswani, 2019). It supports the notion of urban informality that believes that there is an
‘organizing logic’ that needs to be understood in greater depth (Roy & AlSayyad, 2004). The focus is
on one user group—the informal vendor. The eldwork took place in two phases: in July 2014 and
in December 2018. In the rst phase, seventy open-ended interviews were conducted with informal
vendors relating to the ordinary activities. In the second phase, forty interviews were conducted
with vendors relating to the extraordinary or festival activities. Additionally, a total of ten trafc
police personnel and formal shop owners were interviewed.
Spatial conditions on an ‘ordinary day’ and an ‘extraordinary day’
It is clear that people navigate the city both in space and in time. When this occurs spatially, we
term it as the ‘ordinary and extraordinary city’ and when it occurs temporally, we refer to it as
the ‘ordinary and extraordinary day’. While informality can be read as being of two kinds, spatial
informality and economic informality, where an understanding of antecedents of urban informality
is seen as belonging to ‘spatial informality’ (Keswani, 2018), we propose that it is not possible to
separate the two. In this paper, we present work that reects the interaction between economics
and decision-making regarding the occupation of urban space. We nd that the informal sector’s
use of street space is driven by location and by the rent or income that can be derived from leasing
out this location.5 A vendor chooses a space where vehicular trafc is not obstructed, where the
formal shop owner is not obstructed, and where pedestrian ow or footfall is high (Keswani, 2019).
The conditions in which the informal vendor operates on an ‘ordinary’ day, that is, on an everyday
basis, are as follows: A = when conditions 1 and 2 are available; B = when conditions 2 and 3 are
available; C = when conditions 3 and 1 are available; and Z = Space, which is a combination of 1 + 2
+ 3, that is, the ideal location for a vendor (Figure 2). It was found that the ideal location is difcult
to nd and that condition ‘B’ is the most preferred—where the shop owner is not obstructed and
where the pedestrian trafc is high. On an ‘extraordinary’ day, when the street is completely
pedestrianized for a few days of Ramzan, space 1 does not exist. Thus, the space available for
informal vendors increases substantially, as the entire road becomes a site for vending and walking.
Scholars investigating street vending and public space have found that the unofcial support by
the state or by private actors for informal vending activity is often priced based on the location
(Anjaria, 2011; Bromley, 2000; Peña, 1999). Additionally, we nd that the vendors often use tactics
to move from an existing situation to a preferred situation, termed as situation satisfaction or
decision, and that there is a co-relation between their logic, their decision, and their actions or
5 We thank Alain Bertaud, a senior research scholar at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management, for pointing out that
spatial and economic informality cannot be separated and for explaining to us how they are, in fact, the same. This part of
the discussion is primarily based on his inputs.
8Working Paper Series - The Ordinary City and the Extraordinary City: The Challenges of Planning for the Everyday
tactics (Keswani, 2019). Many of the preferred situations or decisions of the vendors have a deep
economic motivation. Here, every location has a distinct value that can be negotiated. The data is
therefore analyzed based on the locational choice, the tactics, and the economics (informal ‘cost’)
of the space. The everyday practices are presented in two parts: rst, the practices (economic) on
an ordinary day; and second, the practices (economic + religious + social) on an extraordinary day.
Ordinary day: Economic practices
This study nds that the spatial transformations on an ‘ordinary day’ (Figure 3) result primarily
from the economic practices of the informal vendors. The vendors (who sell clothes, shoes, purses,
and household items) choose locations, or move from one location to another, because different
locations bring them different incomes. In pursuing these economic practices, the tactics of the
vendors change and are mainly a response to the strategies of the trafc police. On an everyday
basis, the informal vendors interact minimally with the municipal ofcials.
Locational choice
On a normal day, some vendors have xed locations whereas others occupy any space that is
available. At the Basilica junction, the preferred location is at the church entrance, that is, this could
be considered as being spatial condition ‘Z’, while at the Taj Hotel junction, all spaces have equal
status. A few spaces, such as the selling space outside the Basilica gate, have been occupied by the
same family (ower vendors) for the last 40 years. One vendor said, “Each location has a different
Figure 2: Venn diagram showing spatial conditions on an ordinary day and an
extraordinary day.
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footfall and is good for certain businesses, but not for others. I choose accordingly depending on
the items I am selling at that time of the year.”
Tactics
Over time, vendors have developed a relationship with others in the locality that helps them to
protect their preferred locations. One vendor said, “This shop owner has known me for many
years. Besides, all of us who sit in this square are old and we don’t let anyone new come here.”
Another vendor said, “When I came here 13 years back, this space was empty. Back then, you
didn’t have to ask anyone.” For others, it has taken some years of changing locations before they
settled at their current selling spaces. At the Taj Hotel junction, the owners of footwear stalls have
formed an association which often conducts negotiations with the trafc police or with the shop
owners’ association.
Figure 3: Plan of an ordinary day at the Russell Market square
10 Working Paper Series - The Ordinary City and the Extraordinary City: The Challenges of Planning for the Everyday
Economics of the space
Different actors claim a right over the street space and may ask the vendor to pay a price to use
this space. These include both state and non-state players such as the trafc police, formal shop
owners, and, in this neighbourhood, the taxi stand union. Sometimes, if the amounts asked by
the trafc police are too high, the vendor may have to move to a different street or to another
neighbourhood. Often, the policeman knows that his demand will not be met, so it is better to reach
an agreement, hence a compromise is struck between the amount asked and the amount paid. In
the Russell Market precinct, the trafc police usually ask for INR10 per day per vendor. However,
he has the chance to collect this every day from, say, 50 vendors who are positioned in different
parts of the neighbourhood. So, for the trafc police, this can add up to a large amount of money.
The payment that the informal vendor makes to the trafc police is a small amount compared to
what a shop owner whose access is being obstructed is likely to ask for. For the shop owner, there
are only one, or two informal vendors who occupy the sidewalk in front of his shop and who he may
decide to charge for use of the space, and therefore his demand is usually a larger sum from a single
vendor. However, some shop owners do not collect any money from the older, more established,
more familiar vendors who have been selling here for many years. At the Basilica junction, a vendor
occupying a space inside the taxi stand needs to get permission from the taxi drivers union leader
and sometimes has to pay for the use of the space.
Extraordinary day: Social, religious, and economic practices
One of the differences between countries like India from the global south and countries from
the global north is that the former is experiencing urbanness for the rst time in some parts of
the country. Earlier, vast expanses of open space around rural settlements lent them a degree of
elasticity, as these spaces could be used for hosting a periodic festival as and when needed. Today,
as the city continues to grow as a network of densely integrated parts (some that were earlier
villages), there are few such spaces available. However, while the physical fabric of the city has
changed rapidly, the social fabric has been slower to change, and people continue to carry out some
of their everyday practices as before. Thus, some neighbourhoods have had and continue to have
their own extraordinary activities. This sub-section presents the ndings from the study of the
Russell Market precinct during two festivals, Ramzan and Christmas (Figure 4).
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Ramzan as an ‘extraordinary day’
In the month of Ramzan,6 the streets have primarily food vending activity alongside socio-religious
activity, as mosques extend the area for communal praying outside their premises. Many prominent
restaurants put up special shamiana (festive tents) on the street for the entire month which are
used for the preparation and sale of food items (Figure 5). Informal vendors sometimes change both
their location and the products they sell during Ramzan, moving to a space with higher footfalls
and selling food items that are related to the festival.
Locational choice
For several vendors, the Taj Hotel junction is the main selling space throughout the year. Some
vendors come here only during the month of Ramzan. One vendor said, “We go home and other
people put shops here.” Sidewalk space sells at a premium during this time. This part of the
neighbourhood becomes the ideal location or space ‘z’. Several vendors try to gravitate closer to
the Taj Hotel since it has the maximum footfall.
6 The holy month in the Islamic lunar calendar when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. The dates change annually as they
are determined by the sighting of a new moon.
Figure 4: Extraordinary day (Ramzan): Economic practices at the Taj Hotel junction
12 Working Paper Series - The Ordinary City and the Extraordinary City: The Challenges of Planning for the Everyday
Tactics
The allocation of sidewalk space depends on how effectively informal vendors use their social
capital, where knowing the local councillor can get a vendor a prime spot with high footfalls. On the
other hand, non-state players like formal shop owners exert their authority over sidewalk spaces
during Ramzan, often charging rent for it. One informal vendor said, “If Ramzan comes, even my
neighbour won’t leave me alone. He will tell me to use only the space I have.” The existing pushcarts
make space for the new eateries, especially for the last 15 days of the month.
Economics of the space
The occupation of sidewalks entails unofcial payments to (a)the trafc police; (2) the elected
councillors of the local municipality; and (3) the formal shop owner or the taxi stand owner. On an
‘ordinary’ day, a shop owner may not permit informal vendors to occupy the space outside his shop
because he does not want his own business to get affected. However, on an ‘extraordinary’ day such
as Ramzan, when pedestrian trafc increases substantially, the formal shop owner does not nd
the informal vendor to be a threat to his business, and in fact, permits him to occupy the sidewalk
in front of his shop, charging him up to INR 25,000 per month, which is more than the amount the
trafc police would charge during the ‘ordinary day’ period for a whole year.
Figure 5: Extraordinary day (Ramzan): Socio-religious practices at the Taj Hotel junction
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Christmas as an ‘extraordinary day’
Every year, in the month of December, the Basilica junction and one side of the Noronha Road between
the Basilica and the Russell Market square is occupied by temporary stalls selling Christmas items
(Figure 6). These include vendors who (1) sell another product range here on an ordinary day; (2) come
here from other neighbourhoods; and (3) travel here from outside the city during this time. These
vendors are allocated spaces at the junction and on the adjoining sidewalks by the local municipality
from 5 to 25 December, as an informal arrangement that is facilitated by the local councillors.
Locational choice
During Christmas, the most preferred location is near the Basilica gate. The vendors point out that
each person has his or her designated spot and that there is no interference from others. For some
vendors who come here only once a year during this time, location does not matter, since this
economic activity only supplements their main income which is earned elsewhere. While several
vendors nd the Basilica gate an attractive location, there are others who are willing to move
away from a zone of high footfalls to a place that is less congested, and therefore allows for better
interaction with customers.
Tactics
For vendors who have been coming repeatedly to the Basilica junction for several years now, they
do not need to employ any tactics since they have no trouble with fellow vendors, formal shop
owners, or the trafc police since they are known to them. In contrast, new vendors have to dodge
the trafc police, and so often nd it easier to conduct their business using a pushcart so that they
Figure 6: Extraordinary day (Christmas): Economic practices at
the Basilica junction and Noronha Road
14 Working Paper Series - The Ordinary City and the Extraordinary City: The Challenges of Planning for the Everyday
can keep moving more freely. One vendor said that he is ensured a spot here because his mother
has been coming to sell here for 30 years. For those who are regulars here, the police do not ask for
a bribe. Another vendor added “Here, we are all friendly with each other. I am a volunteer at the
church during the 10-day St. Mary’s Feast.” For one of the vendors, familiarity with the family that
regularly sells owers and candles at the Basilica gate has allowed her to settle here more easily.
The vendors choose locations and product ranges to sell so as to minimize conict and reduce
competition between themselves.
Economics of the space
During Christmas, each vendor pays a lump sum to the taxi stand union for the 20-day period.
The vendors can stay until 1 January, but for that they must pay extra. One vendor said, “We pay
according to the width of the stall that we occupy, not the depth. This width is in multiples of
table size.” However, if a vendor does not reach Bangalore on time, he can lose his space in spite of
having paid for it. A new vendor may pay anywhere from INR 4,000 to INR 6,000 to the concerned
authority for the total period of the stay.
Discussion and implications
In this paper, we unpack urban informality at the neighbourhood level using the relational
measures of locational choice, tactics of vendors, and the economics of the space. We propose
that these relational measures could constitute one set of measures that could be used to address
this urban informality. If the deviations from the norm are understood in the context of different
neighbourhoods, and if their relevance for different kinds of extraordinary days is also understood,
one may be able to draw out some recurring or common factors that could then be put to work as a
control mechanism, as a way of reducing the uncertainty within the urban space.
Marx and Kelling (2019) have deployed the mechanism of the ‘common denominator’ to show how
the concept of in/formality can be disentangled using three approaches—urban informality as
condition, urban informality as laws, and urban informality as currency. This paper rst draws
upon the two approaches of ‘urban informality as condition’ and ‘urban informality as laws’ as it
nds that the urban space is often controlled not through the formal mechanism of governance,
but rather through an informal mechanism, by a different set of ‘non-state’ actors, for example,
by the taxi stand union (ordinary day) or by the Taj Hotel owner (extraordinary day). Here, both
the ‘governed’ and the ‘governing’ can be termed as informal, where the governing group holds
entitlement over the space and its appropriation by others through being a legal entity, either
marginally or completely. This comes about through either having a license for using the street
space they occupy, or, more often, is the result of social linkage to, or contacts with, a political
leader. This seems to give legitimacy to their own occupation of the space as well as grant them the
controlling rights to, and the power of negotiation over, an adjoining space that they also lay claim
to as their own, although this is public space that legally belongs to the government.
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Secondly, the study nds that informality as everyday practice is similar to ‘informality as currency’
where certain ways of doing things may have been codied legally, and therefore have a formal
status. In most cases, everyday practices that inuence the Indian cities have not been codied
yet, and therefore lie within the realm of the informal. These practices are socially organized, with
informal or unwritten norms, both on ordinary days and on extraordinary days. In this paper, the
‘nature of an everyday practice’ is the common denominator in the ordinary–extraordinary city
binary. This perspective allows us to use the relational approach (Boudreau & Davis, 2017) where
economic, social, and religious practices make it possible to distinguish between the ordinary city
and the extraordinary city. Although it uses ethnographical accounts of the ‘ordinary’ and the
‘extraordinary’ in a market precinct of Bangalore, the intent of this paper is to go beyond the
specicities of a typical city in the global south and instead use the binary that emerges to propose
a theoretical framework (Figure 7).
Marx and Kelling (2019) have suggested how common denominators facilitate the construction of
the binary formal–informal. They point out that there are three ways in which this happens: rst,
people actively construct the binary oppositions of formality and informality; second, common
denominators conceal latent power relations; and third, to allow movement within the binary
pairing, common denominators must remain stable and coherent, that is, their existing power
relations need to be accepted. In this study, one can identify the everyday practice of food vending
seen during the month of Ramzan or the everyday practice of decorations vending during Christmas.
Both practices are related to the needs of the customer and lead to higher footfalls at specic times
during the year. The high footfalls lead to an increase in the economic value of the sidewalk space.
We argue that urban planning processes need to allow for a degree of resilience in urban spaces to
accommodate the extraordinary. At present, the extraordinary seems to be facilitated by resilience
in the governance, or rather, a exibility in the enforcement, of regulations. Here, regulation
becomes then an everyday negotiation between actors in the space and the enforcing authorities, or
what Anjaria (2011) has termed as the ‘Ordinary State’. We nd that the regulations for an ordinary
day are different from those for an extraordinary day. While Anjaria discusses this ‘everyday
Figure 7: ‘Everyday practice’ as common denominator in the ordinary–extraordinary city binary.
16 Working Paper Series - The Ordinary City and the Extraordinary City: The Challenges of Planning for the Everyday
negotiation’ for the ordinary day, we argue that this takes place differently for the extraordinary
day. Often, there are no existing regulations, which makes it easier for both the ordinary and the
extraordinary to become possible randomly. However, this generates a high amount of uncertainty,
which that citizens must cope with on an everyday basis.
The boundaries of the power relations remain blurred, as people engage with each other in
different ways, lending either a nancial, social, political, or cultural value to the urban space.
On the one hand, there is a value that the space holds, and, on the other hand, there are different
kinds of capital that are exchanged between various sets of actors within these spaces. There is
nancial capital (informal vending), social capital (social interactions before, during, and after
business hours), political capital (governance of the space and sometimes the informal control of
spatial appropriations), and cultural capital (feeding the poor on festival days). There are different
groups for each capital exchange, for example, the social capital actor group could consist of (a)
vendor; (b) shop owner; and (c) trafc police; or (i) Basilica pastor; (ii) vendor; and (iii) trafc
police. Similarly, the political capital actor group could either consist of (a) MLA or Member of
Legislative Assembly; (b) local corporator; and (c) taxi stand union leader; or (i) local corporator; (ii)
Taj Hotel owner; and (iii) trafc police. With the groups of actors or agents within the public space
being multiplex in nature, the relational webs that are created can be quite complex and could lead
to multiple possibilities, with spatial transformations occurring on an everyday basis. Hence, it
becomes necessary to record the ordinary and extraordinary activities at the neighbourhood level
and to collate this data and analyze it to gain an understanding of how the functioning of the city
can change through making an intervention at the master-plan level or at the policy-making level.
Implications of the research
The scholarly work that calls for transcending informal urbanism through the disruption of binary
thinking (Acuto, Dinardi and Marx, 2019) also stresses the need to nd common ground that can
link the parts to the whole. This study uses the idea of a ‘binary’ (ordinary city–extraordinary city)
to overcome the limitations and to eliminate the ambiguity that lie in the binary of informal/
formal by bringing in the analytical precision offered by an ethnographical account of the urban
space, one that dissects urban informality, in attempting to understand it both temporally and
spatially, as it looks at both the everyday and periodic activities of people.
On the practice front, this study argues that for people to navigate the city more easily, urban planning
processes need to change so that the physical infrastructure and the governance infrastructure
can partially, if not wholly, respond to the dynamics of the everyday. There is much that is in a
state of ux, as even today villages are being enveloped by the growth of the city. As the physical
boundaries change, many social, cultural, and economic practices of these communities continue
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to survive within the new congurations of space into which they move into. It may be necessary
to include an urban design plan as one of the stages in the planning process that acknowledges
the specic needs and characteristics of both the ‘ordinary day’ and the ‘extraordinary day’ at the
neighbourhood level and at the city level. In the context of the Indian city, the Urban and Regional
Development Plan Formulation and Implementation (URDPFI) Guidelines, provide a framework for
the plan preparation and implementation processes. There is a provision in these guidelines for an
‘annual plan’ (scale: 1:1000 or 1:500) in which urban design inputs can be incorporated (Keswani,
2019). We propose that this could be the dynamic plan that reects the ground reality and that can
help develop a people-centric approach to urban design and planning.
Limitations and future research
Future research could look at whether the self-organizing nature of the ordinary city is less complex
or more complex than that of the extraordinary city which is facilitated by the government. One
could look at the differences between ‘self-organizing’ complexity and ‘facilitated’ complexity
within urban spaces that are a function of informality.
In this paper, we have studied the ‘tactics’ of the vendors but have not delved into the nature of
the ‘strategies’ of the administrators. The latter could be investigated in future studies in this area.
Also, while we have investigated one kind of everyday practice, festival days (religious practice),
which are the regular extraordinary days, researchers could examine the irregular extraordinary
days, such as wedding processions (cultural practice) and political rallies (political practice) as well,
to develop a more nuanced understanding of urban informality.
List of figures
Figure 1: Plan of Shivajinagar neighbourhood showing the sites of ordinary activities (Noronha Road) and
extraordinary activities [the Russell Market square (1), Basilica junction (2), and Taj Hotel junction (3), i.e. sites of
Ramzan and Christmas celebrations].
Figure 2: Venn diagram showing spatial conditions on an ordinary day and an extraordinary day
Figure 3: Plan of an ordinary day at the Russell Market square
Figure 4: Extraordinary day (Ramzan): Economic practices at the Taj Hotel junction
Figure 5: Extraordinary day (Ramzan): Socio-religious practices at the Taj Hotel junction
Figure 6: Extraordinary day (Christmas): Economic practices at the Basilica junction and Noronha Road
Figure 7: ‘Everyday practice’ as common denominator in the ordinary–extraordinary city binary
Sources of all gures/photographs: Authors
18 Working Paper Series - The Ordinary City and the Extraordinary City: The Challenges of Planning for the Everyday
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About the Author
Kiran Keswani
Kiran Keswani is a Visiting faculty at Azim Premji University and Co-Founder,
Everyday City Lab, an urban design and research collaborative in Bangalore. She has
a PhD from the Faculty of Planning, CEPT University, Ahmedabad.
Suresh Bhagavatula
Suresh Bhagavatula is Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Management,
Bangalore. His research interests are in two overlapping domains- entrepreneurship
and social networks.
About Azim Premji University
Azim Premji University was established in Karnataka by the Azim Premji University Act 2010 as a not-for-profit
University and is recognized by The University Grants Commission (UGC) under Section 22F. The University has a
clearly stated social purpose. As an institution, it exists to make significant contributions through education towards
the building of a just, equitable, humane and sustainable society. This is an explicit commitment to the idea that
education contributes to social change. The beginnings of the University are in the learning and experience of a
decade of work in school education by the Azim Premji Foundation. The University is a part of the Foundation and
integral to its vision. The University currently oers Postgraduate Programmes in Education, Development and
Public Policy and Governance, Undergraduate Programmes in Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities, and a
range of Continuing Education Programmes.
Azim Premji University
PES Campus
Pixel Park, B Block
Electronics City, Hosur Road
(Beside NICE Road)
Bengaluru – 560 100, India.
Website: azimpremjiuniversity.edu.in
About Azim Premji University
Azim Premji University was established in Karnataka by the Azim Premji University Act 2010 as a not-for-profit
University and is recognized by The University Grants Commission (UGC) under Section 22F. The University has a
clearly stated social purpose. As an institution, it exists to make significant contributions through education towards
the building of a just, equitable, humane and sustainable society. This is an explicit commitment to the idea that
education contributes to social change. The beginnings of the University are in the learning and experience of a
decade of work in school education by the Azim Premji Foundation. The University is a part of the Foundation and
integral to its vision. The University currently oers Postgraduate Programmes in Education, Development and
Public Policy and Governance, Undergraduate Programmes in Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities, and a
range of Continuing Education Programmes.
Azim Premji University
PES Campus
Pixel Park, B Block
Electronics City, Hosur Road
(Beside NICE Road)
Bengaluru – 560 100, India.
Website: azimpremjiuniversity.edu.in
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How do Anglophone urban scholars know urban informalities? This article reviews three dominant ways of knowing urban informality, noting that, despite the profoundly rich insights they each provide, two critiques of the overall concept endure. These are that the concept is often imprecise, and that the contribution to knowing ‘the urban’ more generally remains clearly circumscribed to the ‘urban non-west’. In our view, these limitations curtail the possibilities of sharpening our understanding of the relationship to inequalities and injustices. We work with these critiques, suggesting that they represent two sides of the same problem, associated with binaries. In doing so, we build on the existing emphasis on practices and work across the three dominant ways of knowing urban informalities. This reveals that binaries are not held together magically and transparently so that each is the mirror opposite. Instead, the difference is constituted through unnamed aspects of common denominators – two of which we highlight (property rights and aesthetics) – and may be intrinsic to the way urban informality has come to develop. It is through the latent power relations that inhere in these common denominators that urban scholars can achieve greater conceptual precision and make different contributions to broader urban theory committed to challenging injustices.
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The everyday life of a city can generate informality in urban space, particularly in emerging economies. Using the grounded theory approach, this paper looks at how urban space in a market precinct is negotiated through tactics of street vendors and strategies of the government. It draws upon Herbert Simon’s work on decision making to show how a vendor moves from an existing situation to a preferred situation and terms this as situation satisfaction. It suggests a theoretical framework to understand the relation between the logic, decision and action of stakeholders to resolve the conflict between planning criteria and ground reality. The e-print link to the FULL paper from Routledge (50 free online copies) is here: https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/iswIaV2FICHCk3M9utPa/full
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This article offers an ethnographic account of informality, showing the complicity between the formal sector and the informal economy. Taking the reader on a car journey of urban disorganisation and traffic jams in Mexico City, the analysis shows how informality has become part of an everyday social contract. It is argued that the diverse world of informal practices, working as a popular survival strategy, is also entrenched in the workings of formal institutions, which draw on under-the-counter agreements and exchanges with the illegal economy, be that in the construction of public works in the city, in film and clothes piracy or in the public provision of water, transport, light or Internet services. The global hegemonic system could not function without these agreements: the transition from informality to illegality is slippery. If Mexico City is a global city it is not just for participating in the networks of transnational corporations, consulting firms and international tourism; it is also because of its networks with super brands in legal and illegal production. The article concludes by suggesting that an informal system of production, transactions and distribution of goods and services linking entrepreneurs from all continents can position the city on a global scale through non-hegemonic globalisation.
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Informality is a critical theme in urban studies. In recent years, ‘the everyday’ has become a focus of studies on informality in African cities. These studies focus on particularity and place. They offer a useful corrective to top-down and universalising readings which exclude the daily experiences and practices of people from analysis. As we show in this article, everyday studies surface valuable insights, highlighting the agency and precarity which operates at the street level. However, a fuller understanding of informality’s (re)production requires drawing together particularist accounts with wider and more structural tracings. These tracings offer insights into the ways in which state and financial processes influence and interface with the everyday. In this article, we use the case of housing in Delft, a township in Cape Town, to demonstrate this approach and argue for a multi-scalar and relational reading of the production of informality.
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This article provides an epistemological critique of informality by focusing on cultural governance in two cities of the global South, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Dakar, Senegal. Aiming to enrich debates about urban creativity and urban cultural policy, which are still mainly focused on and articulated from the global North, we consider the broad field of ‘informality’ research as an entry point for such a discussion. Using case studies from African and Latin American contexts, we focus on the interstices of cultural policy and the borderlands of (in)formality, examining how governmental institutions are entangled in informal processes, and how grassroots cultural interventions become part of mainstream cultural circuits. The analysis sheds light on how these creative spaces of cultural production, located in Southern contexts of urban extremes, contribute to the vitality of informal urbanisms and unsettle predominant views that see them merely as sites of infrastructural poverty and social exclusion. The article suggests that a creative remapping of informality, through an inquiry of the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of the cultural polis, could improve our translating capacity of academic discourse into institutional/policy-related operations.