Academic journal article Cityscape

Designing Fair and Effective Street Vending Policy: It's Time for a New Approach

Academic journal article Cityscape

Designing Fair and Effective Street Vending Policy: It's Time for a New Approach

Article excerpt

Introduction

In 2008, Roy Choi and his Kogi taco truck inspired a food truck phenomenon across the United States. His Korean tacos reinvented the traditional lonchera, or taco truck, into an urban global fusion food experience. Chefs in other cities were experimenting with food trucks and, by 2012, 1,400 food trucks were operating (Esparza, Walker, and Rossman, 2014) in as many as 1,100 large and small cities nationwide (FoodTrucksIn.com, n.d.). Taco trucks often had served events, work sites, and, in some cities, immigrant neighborhoods, but the new food trucks have sought locations throughout the city at all times of day. This trend has caused city councils, restaurant associations, food truck operators, brick-and-mortar business owners, and urban residents to debate how and when food trucks operate.

U.S. street commerce is severely restricted, but the attention to food trucks has created an opportunity to reconfigure street trade regulation and policy. Food trucks, along with farmers markets, public markets, and sidewalk vending, have created a renaissance in street commerce (Morales and Kettles, 2009a). The various types of vending are treated differently, however. The number of farmers markets is increasing, and food trucks have advocated successfully for more favorable regulations. Even though sidewalk vendors also have organized, sidewalk vending continues to be mostly prohibited (Martin, 2014; Reyes, 2015). In some cases, the attention to new food trucks and their demands has made it more difficult for longtime vendors who have been operating in ways that did not generate complaints or enforcement (Tomicki, 2010).

The new trends raise important questions. Will the new food truck movement create space for more street commerce? Will it instead privilege some vendors over others and reinforce the inequitable patterns of opportunity? This article examines three assumptions that underlie vending regulations: (1) that adjacent property interests must be protected from street vendors and their customers, (2) that preventing pedestrian congestion justifies street vending prohibitions, and (3) that specific regulations are needed, if street vending is to be allowed. The contemporary restrictive vending landscape is not based on evidence about street vending impacts. Instead, these assumptions have roots in the 19th century, and they were used recurrently in 20th century street vending debates. They can be considered pitfalls, however, because they never resolved the conflicts even though they disadvantaged vendors and their customers. Residents and public officials in 21st century cities have different concerns and priorities than their counterparts a century ago. Cities therefore need a new approach to street commerce.

Investigating these three assumptions suggests than an alternative approach is possible. The next section of this article outlines the research and trends to provide the context for the new regulatory period and the complexity of existing regulations. The following section discusses findings from three analyses. The first subsection examines the public discourse about the adoption or revision of vending ordinances, with a focus on Albuquerque, New Mexico; Chicago, Illinois; and New Orleans, Louisiana. The second subsection summarizes findings from a research project that used direct observation of food trucks in Chicago in October 2013 to understand how the trucks influenced sidewalk dynamics. The final subsection is based on observations of food vending during parades called second lines in New Orleans during the 2014-2015 season and asks what observers can learn from informal vending. Together, these discussions provide a new starting point for municipal professionals engaged in street vending discussions. Fewer regulations and actively planning to enhance compatibilities between vending and other urban activities would address street commerce impacts more effectively than the current regulatory approach. …

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