This article notes how an assumption that poor people cannot contribute to economic growth is based on a selective and partial view of their economic agency. I establish the merit of asking questions about this assumption by demonstrating the negative effects it has on the possibilities for equitably distributing urban economic infrastructure. While the need for redistributing social infrastructure is well established, the redistribution of economic infrastructure has very little political traction in urban development approaches. Using as an example a long‐term visioning process in the city of Durban, South Africa, I reveal how the assumption sustains a view that cannot see when poor people are contributing to economic growth, and thus undermines the possibilities of redistributing urban economic infrastructure that can increase poor people’s productivity. In theoretical terms, questioning this assumption opens up broader questions about how to analyse urban economies. Practically, it stimulates urban policymakers to look anew for connections between poor people and economic growth. It also offers poor people themselves the resources to enlarge the ‘claiming landscape’ on which they can pursue their own demands and resist municipal activities that deny or destroy urban livelihoods.