The InforMALL: Shopping malls as infrastructures to support small-scale informal businesses

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

My dissertation inquiry focuses on the informal economic sector within the emerging economic area of Delft. This was born out of a personal fascination with the concept of informal or 'alternative-formal' economics. The existence of this concept was first brought to my attention through the Spaces of Good Hope Design + Research Studio (SoGH) in my BAS (Hons) year of 2016. Through site visits to the Delft, I became increasingly aware of an economic environment characterized by complex socio-spatial relationships. These differ from multi-layered, highly-mechanized business operations associated with more formal enterprises. The more time I spent observing business practices within Delft, the more I became aware of the sophistication of the sheer magnitude of the social networks which were the lifeblood of the embedded informal economy there. Admittedly, I found the whole system slightly overwhelming, struggling to understand how such apparent chaos could hide such a sophisticated economy, so different in shape and practices from the formal economy. It was during a SoGH plenary given by property economist, Francois Viruly, on the topic of the informal housing sector within South Africa, that I discovered how significant the informal economy is in sustaining livelihoods for a substantial portion of the country's population who cannot find jobs within the formal sector. Speaking frankly, Viruly, a highly regarded expert within the field of property economics, stressed that in spite of the prevalence of the informal economy within the South African context, both as a viable source of employment and a significant contributor to our formal economy, there is a distinct lack of understanding of the nature of the interface between formal and informal. The reality is that the existence of either formal or informal is dependent on the presence of the other, and sometimes, as is exemplified in the relationships between spazas, shebeens, and the corporate giants Coca-Cola and SAB-Miller within emerging economic areas, the links between survivalist enterprises and big corporates are critical. Clearly, economics, urban design and architecture need to come closer together - they need to inform each other. The spatial aspects of the economy require much more attention. Viruly posed an important question: "Can we create a built environment that starts at survivalist level and is sufficiently flexible to accommodate a fast-moving economy?"