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Rethinking Urban Mega-Development, Crafting Alternatives in a Philippine Wholesale Market Trade

With growing Global South urbanization governments are revamping urban renewal by privileging large-scale projects and face lifting so-called problematic areas such as informally-spacialized street and public market trades (Brenner, Marcuse, Mayer 2012). This agenda is evident in the northern Philippines where in 2016 the Benguet provincial government attempted to unilaterally move vegetable traders from the region’s key wholesale market – the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Post (LTVTP) – to its new mega-facility, the Benguet Agri Pinoy Tading Center (BAPTC). This move would have disenfranchised a range of suppliers’ “informally-fashioned” produce sourcing integral to ensuring LTVTP wholesalers’ commodity flows. Rather than imposing a hegemonic vision of appropriate “cityness,” Robinson and Parnell (2013) suggest an “ordinary city” perspective that enables space for urban diversity – a local “reterritorialization” that best meets urbanites subsistence needs across sectors.

This paper engages this issue by analyzing the edgy side roads LTVTP marketers used to defeat the government’s market relocation efforts. I argue that marketers combine “advocacy” (petitions) and “everyday” politics (occupying public space) (Kerkvliet 2009) to sustain the personalized and sometimes extralegal practices that secure their livelihoods while contributing to the city’s economy. To promote their cause, LTVTP marketers launched civil law suits and appeals, obtained Restraining Orders and operationalized their supplier networks across “gray spaces” of trade (Yiftachel 2012). That Benguet officials sanctioned the simultaneous operation of both wholesale vegetable markets in 2018 highlights government complicity in formalizing informality and extralegality as urban organizing logics when it is to their advantage (Roy 2014). LTVTP marketers’ advocacy thus materializes how civic engagement can be effectively negotiated when competing ideologies clash over livelihood rights and how to structure a inclusive urban texture.

Keywords: Philippines, urban development, public markets, everyday/advocacy politics, illegality and informality.

B. Lynne Milgram is Professor of Anthropology at OCAD University, Toronto. Her research in the northern Philippines analyzes the cultural politics of social change regarding women’s work in crafts, microfinance, the Hong Kong-Philippine secondhand clothing trade, and street and public market vending. Milgram investigates urban public space transformations and issues of informality, governmentality, and extralegality regarding livelihood rights, cultural citizenship, and food security. Milgram has co-edited 5 books, the most recent with Hansen & Little, (2013) Street Economies of the Urban Global South, SAR Press. Recent publications include: (2019) Gift-Commodity Entanglements: Repositioning (In)formality in a Philippine Market Trade. Anthropologica 61:51-64; (2018) The Resilience of Fresh Food Provisioning in Baguio’s Retail Public Market Trade. In Cities in Asia by and for the People, 201-228. Cabannes, Douglass, Padawangi, eds. (U of Amsterdam).

To Students in the Collaborative Specialization program: This seminar is part of the Culinaria Seminar Series SRM 3333H.


Lynne Milgram
Friday, November 29, 2019 - 14:00 to 16:00
U of T St George campus, Jackman Humanities Building, room JHB318