Street markets, urban development and immigrant entrepreneurship: Unpacking precarity in Moore Street, Dublin

Street markets, urban development and immigrant entrepreneurship: Unpacking precarity in Moore Street, Dublin


Written by:

Cristín Blennerhassett, Niamh Moore-Cherry, and Christine Bonnin

First Published:

12 Oct 2021, 11:29 am


Street markets, urban development and immigrant entrepreneurship: Unpacking precarity in Moore Street, Dublin



Traditional markets are important urban public assets, providing substantial social and economic value to cities, particularly for low-income and minority social groups (Moore-Cherry and Bonnin, 2020). But street markets are often located in areas that have been disinvested over time and are under significant threat. This is well documented across cities in the Global North and Global South. In our paper, Street markets, urban development and immigrant entrepreneurship: Unpacking precarity in Moore Street, Dublin, we explore the experiences of immigrant entrepreneurs who have recently established ethnic enterprises in the streetscape around the Moore Street market, Dublin (Ireland). For them the marketscape offers an opportunity to establish their own businesses in a low cost environment and often with limited upfront investment. 

These opportunities co-exist alongside the challenge of ongoing proposals for urban redevelopment (Moore-Cherry and Bonnin, 2020) and recent legal challenges around the ‘heritage’ of the street (Moore-Cherry and Bonnin, 2020). Linked to uncertainty around redevelopment timelines, short-term leases are on offer providing opportunity but also creating precarity as landlords can evict tenants at relatively short notice and without compensation. While precarity is generally acknowledged as a highly problematic concept and experience, our study nuances understandings by exploring the potentially productive nature of precarity in some very specific instances, that can facilitate autonomous economic and social pathways for urban newcomers. 

Based on semi-structured interviews with immigrant and traditional traders, a number of insights emerged into the experience of immigrant entrepreneurs, the challenges they face and mechanisms deployed for navigating them. An initial challenge faced by all newcomers is how to navigate the national, sectoral and local institutional environment, including tax and welfare, regulatory, housing and rental systems. Despite the policy rhetoric in support of ethnic entrepreneurship, the experience in Dublin is quite different. A second major challenge is the risk posed to themselves and their businesses by anti-social behaviour and the neglect of this by local law enforcement. However this experience is not just restricted to newcomer traders but is also a major concern of longer-term traders. In interviews, it also became clear that our respondents had limited knowledge of future plans for the streets or how this might impact on their futures and livelihood practices and thus the nature of precarity was not fully understood.

During our interviews, the symbolic significance of entrepreneurship became very clear. For urban newcomers, it is not only about job creation or financial stability, but also about demonstrably becoming active agents of their own destiny. While the urban market-scape is indeed very precarious, the low barriers of entry offers immigrant entrepreneurs an autonomous foothold into the host economy and enable them to foster co-ethnic social networks of support. These traders prize the autonomy brought by market trading and use it as a meso-scale between low-paid waged employment and higher-level employment that may be out of reach for a variety of reasons. They strategically repurposed their previous education and skillsets to support their entrepreneurial activities. Despite the challenges and precarious nature of their livelihood activities, the market provides an opportunity for entrepreneurship at lower cost than traditional entrepreneurship, but also provides additional opportunities such as support and cohesion through co-ethnic clustering.  

Where cities are undergoing rapid transformations, usually property-led and market-based, issues of social and environmental justice come to the fore. While structural racism may force immigrants into low-paid waged labour, many of our participants actively chose market trading as a way of circumventing the limitations of the labour market. Precarity was thus negotiated by individuals exerting agency within certain structural limitations or contexts. This tension between constraining and enabling elements for livelihood-building in Moore Street engenders a form of precarity that while productive in the short-term, is ultimately limiting without significant and supportive state intervention in the operation of the real estate market. 


To read more about the experiences of the market traders, see the full paper here.