In your geography class, you may have studied about the three types of economic activity: primary (extractive activities such as mining, fishing, agriculture), secondary (manufacturing), and tertiary (services).

Remember that if anything happens in geographic space, you can (almost) always map it. It is mappable. Economic activities are no exception.

However, observe a little closely, and you’ll see how intimately they are intertwined. No single type of economic activity is neatly separated out. This, too, is visible on the landscape.

In the early mornings, in front of the M N Krishna Rao Park in Bangalore, a lot of people go for walks and other forms of exercise. It is one of the important and cherished lung spaces of Bangalore. I observe the economic activities at, and near, the main gate of the Park.

Vendors of vegetables, fruits, flowers, milk, etc. set up their wares at about 6:00 am. For one group of vegetable vendors, their merchandise is delivered by motorized vehicles. The vegetables are in plastic sacks and crates. The milk vendor’s supplies come by truck.

The flower vendors are perhaps the lowest in terms of technology, and the money involved. They make their flower garlands by hand there, on the spot. This is partly to show that the flowers they sell are fresh.

The milk vendor’s booth has existed there for at least 45 years. (Well, I am 837 years old!). All the others conduct their business in open public space. So, they have no rent to pay. They don’t own facilities, no electricity bills, water bills, etc. at their shops. They are part of the transient landscape of the City’s economy. They occupy the pavement for a part of the day and then they leave. Many have carts that they push around and sell their vegetables etc. elsewhere in the city.

Then, there are days when suddenly some pharmaceutical company or an “organic” products store sets up a table and offers samples. Samples of services or products. Thus, I have seen health care companies offering spot blood-sugar checks (they prick your fingertip with a needle, take a drop of blood on a chemically treated strip, insert the strip into a small hand-held device, and within seconds you get a reading telling you how much sugar you have in your blood at that moment) and blood pressure checks (small electronic gadget that automatically takes a reading of your blood pressure and tells you the results within a minute). I have seen a shop that specializes in “organic” products, offer free samples of herbal tea – they give you two packets of it to take with you, plus one small paper cup of hot, freshly brewed tea. It has “anti-oxidants”, is “good for diabetes, blood pressure, stress …” etc.

Interestingly, I have noticed that many times the health check and the tea sample occur at the same time. H’mmm …

Judging by outward appearances, it seems to me that most of the people who come to the Park in the mornings work in some form of tertiary economic enterprise. This sector also entails a certain kind of lifestyle – largely sedentary during the day, high stress levels, and very little “down time” (i.e., rest and relaxation). As a result of a lot of such lifestyle factors, environmental factors, and genetics, city-dwellers face many health problems such as diabetes, hypertension, acidity, and so on. They are urban ailments – most visible in urban areas.

The Park offers them a clean and sylvan place to exercise. This is perhaps the only time of the day when they get to do it. Time is in short supply. “No time!” is a common problem. After the exercise in the Park, it would take more time for them to go to the market to buy vegetables, flowers, milk etc. for the day. It would be convenient to buy these at the end of their walk, and get on their two-wheelers (or in their four-wheelers) and take them home. This creates a niche where these economic opportunities exist for the vendors. They take advantage of it and economic enterprise occurs – supply meets demand.

Location makes all the difference. As does time.

Look around your landscape and observe another thing. You will find that there are a lot of economic transactions that are not recorded anywhere – there is no account, no bill, no invoice, nothing. For instance, the persons who clean houses usually do not get a pay slip, do not have tax withheld from their monthly wages (TDS – Tax Deducted at Source), nor is there any accounting of these transactions. The vendors of vegetables, fruits, etc. at the Park (and almost anywhere else, except in super markets) do not account for their income and expenditure to the government. We do not get (nor expect) receipts for our purchases from the vendor on the pavement.

Compare the costs of their business with the formal economy where there is some sort of accounting of money flow. Our fruit, vegetable, flower vendors may not have to pay “rent”, utilities (electricity, water) maintenance, etc. Their expenses are also part of the economy. It is a fact of urban life in India that street vendors can operate only if they are able to pay bribes in some form to a variety of people. Particularly those who enforce the law. This money is also not accounted for. Bribery leads to what one of my friends calls a complicit relationship: pavement space is public space and is meant for pedestrians, but vendors occupy the space for economic gain. If the law were enforced, they could not do so. The fact that they are able to shows us the nature of this complicit relationship.

Such economic activities are part of the informal economy. Thus you can see on the urban landscape a lot of economic activities that fall into this category. In India, this is a huge part of the economy. It keeps life moving for all of us.

All of these economic relationships, transactions, activities etc. can be mapped because they are all located in geographic space.

Things you can do:

  1. Observe a part of your neighborhood and map the various kinds of economic activities that occur. Show where primary, secondary, and tertiary economic activities occur. However, don’t be surprised if you have a very tough time doing this. Why is it tough?
  2. Select one tertiary activity on the landscape and identify all the primary and secondary activities that are involved in making that tertiary activity possible.
  3. Speculate why the health check-up and herbal tea sample supply may be happening at the same time.
  4. Also, why do they happen only in front of parks and at that hour of the day? Why not in a market place at 2pm? Location is everything!
  5. Identify the informal economic activities going on in your neighborhood and locate them on a map of your neighborhood. (Draw your own map by hand or use online mapping sites such as GoogleMaps, OpenStreetMap, etc.)

(A version of this article appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition on 14 August 2014.)


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