«Contesting the streets Volume 18, number 1 • 2016 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy Development and Research ...»
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10 Contesting the Streets Designing Fair and Effective
Street Vending Policy:
It’s Time for a New Approach Renia Ehrenfeucht University of New Mexico Abstract Cities have experienced an upswing in food trucks and other forms of street vending in the past decade. This upswing has led to new debates over how, where, and when street vending should be allowed. Using evidence from three research projects, this article examines three assumptions that underlie discussions about street vending regulations— that extensive regulations are necessary to (1) protect property interests, (2) prevent pedestrian congestion or other impacts, and (3) keep the street orderly. The findings suggest that fewer regulations are needed to meet legitimate public purposes, and cities would benefit from a new approach in which they reduced street vending regulations and actively planned to enhance compatibility with other urban activities.
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 Cityscape 11 Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research • Volume 18, Number 1 • 2016 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development • Office of Policy Development and Research Ehrenfeucht 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.
The Changing Context of U.S. Street Food Vending The 2010s are a critical time to reconsider how to plan for street commerce in the United States.
Unlike Colombia, India, and Mexico, where constitutional courts granted some rights to work on the street (Meneses-Reyes and Caballero-Juárez, 2014), the United States has never affirmatively granted these rights. Instead, for more than a century, the most common policy approach has been regulating and prohibiting vending (Baldwin, 1999; Ehrenfeucht, 2012; Kettles, 2007; Morales, 2000).
Regulations do not cause or prevent street commerce, however. Street vending has relatively low barriers to entry, including low startup costs. Many households use a mix of formal and informal strategies to make a living, and street vending and informal services can augment other work
(Raijman, 2001; Uzzell, 1980; Venkatesh, 2006). In the United States, like elsewhere, consumers patronize street vendors because their goods are inexpensive and they are convenient (Bromley, 2000; Cross and Morales, 2007; Donovan, 2008).
Restrictive regulations, however, cause many of the estimated 20,000 vendors in New York City, New York, to operate informally (The Street Vendor Project, n.d.). Despite sidewalk vending prohibitions, Los Angeles, California, has between 10,000 and 50,000 street vendors who generate upward of $500 million annually (The Economic Roundtable, n.d.; Hsu, 2014). In 2010, only an estimated one-half of the food trucks in Los Angeles were licensed by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Shouse, 2011).
The current regulations stem from 19th century efforts by the business elite and small business owners to modernize the city and domesticate urban streets (Baldwin, 1999; Bluestone, 1991;
Ehrenfeucht and Loukaitou-Sideris, 2007; Scobey, 2002). Municipalities adopted increasingly specific and restrictive regulations to exercise social control over the large immigrant populations for whom the street was both workplace and living room (Baldwin, 1999; Ehrenfeucht, 2012).
The specificity of the regulations developed in part because particular brick-and-mortar businesses challenged vendors with whom they competed, leading to complex regulations that responded to particular controversies (Ehrenfeucht, 2012; Scobey, 2002).
Nevertheless, changing shopping practices ultimately reduced street vending more than the web of regulations (Bluestone, 1991). These restrictions similarly have not prevented street commerce from growing during times when people needed work. Sidewalk vendors often work in lowincome immigrant neighborhoods, where street vending is familiar and newcomers seek incomes (Bromley, 2000; Cross and Morales, 2007; Kettles, 2007; Loukaitou-Sideris and Ehrenfeucht, 2009;
Martin, 2014; Raijman, 2001; Stoller, 2002), and in other low-income neighborhoods (Venkatesh, 2006). Street vending in Los Angeles and New York notably increased with more immigration in the 1980s (Kettles, 2007; Stoller, 1996). During the recession in the late 2000s, more people turned to street commerce and day labor (Crotty, 2014; Hsu, 2014).
During this period, restaurants struggled and food trucks also became a new opportunity for restaurateurs (Esparza, Walker, and Rossman, 2014; Martin, 2014; Newman and Burnett, 2013). The $20,000 to $50,000 needed to start a food truck was much less than the $400,000 to start a restaurant (Shouse, 2011). Changing consumer preferences also influenced street commerce. Patrons who wanted novel and fresh food supported the new food trucks (Intuit, 2012; Myint and Leibowitz, 2011; Shouse, 2011; Zukin, 2010). Farmers markets also reflected a desire for local, fresh food and a response to a global food system that had become environmentally damaging and exploitive (Hess, 2009; Morales and Kettles, 2009a). All types of street commerce appealed to consumers who wanted to support local businesses rather than global chains (Hess, 2009; Urban Vitality Group, 2008).
It is advantageous to consider all street commerce as a broader trend. Given the range of foodrelated health concerns and growing awareness of food deserts, increasing access to healthy food is a public priority. Street food, including markets, can make more fresh food available (Morales and Kettles, 2009a). New York City’s Green Cart program, for example, increased the caps on vending permits for vendors selling fresh fruit and vegetables. The city also assists vendors who want to accept Electronic Benefit Transfer cards (New York City, n.d.).
More people also have become increasingly dependent on contingent work and obtain income from multiple sources (Peck and Theodore, 2001; Theodore, 2003; Valenzuela, Jr., 2003, 2001).
Although street vending occurs disproportionately in low-income communities, college graduates are also reenvisioning work, both constructing opportunities out of limited choices and seeking different types of work. They are working in agriculture, crafts, specialized manufacturing, and the service sector (Dawkins, 2011; Hess, 2009; Jurjevich and Schrock, 2012). Because street commerce creates markets for local products and produce, it can help urban residents earn a living or supplement their incomes.
In addition, urban cultural and planning trends promote dynamic public environments. Popup bars and restaurants, street vending, food trucks, and public markets can contribute to placemaking efforts and community economic development (Bishop and Williams, 2012; Morales, Balkin, and Persky, 1995). Local policymakers and economic development professionals also have tried to facilitate distinctive local economic development and vernacular cultural practices (Carr and Servon, 2008).
At the same time, enabling one type of street vending while restricting others can unintentionally lead to unfair vending opportunities. Public officials embraced food trucks because their customers and proprietors are middle-income residents associated with gentrification and creative classoriented urban redevelopment (Esparza, Walker, and Rossman, 2014; Martin, 2014; Newman and Burnett, 2013). The politics within localist, fresh food movements has limited views of healthy food, which has led to alternative food practices that reproduce racial difference (Slocum, 2007).
One Toronto, Ontario, Canada initiative failed because too many public objectives were layered into a highly regulated street vending program (Newman and Burnett, 2013).
Finally, establishing vending districts or markets has been a repeated response to street vending conflicts. These efforts privilege the concerns of street vending opponents and disregard factors that make street vending profitable and convenient (Donovan, 2008; Huang, Xue, and Li, 2014). Even though some vendors participate and attempt to vend legally, markets have not replaced sidewalk vending (Donovan, 2008; Kettles, 2007; Stoller, 1996). Instead, street commerce—including markets, sidewalk vending, and food trucks—can be seen as a range of activities that serve different niches and have distinct benefits.
A Complex Regulatory System Street vending regulations are restrictive, complex, and varied. Los Angeles prohibits most sidewalk vending, New Yorks caps the number of vending permits, and Seattle, Washington, allows only products such as flowers to be sold. Where allowed, vendors must comply with local permitting and licensing requirements. They are also subject to parking restrictions, local ordinances that require streets and sidewalks to stay clear of obstructions, and litter prohibitions. In all cases, street food vendors are subject to state and local health regulations that guide food handling and preparation.
In cities where vending is permitted, vendors are subject to restrictions about how and where they vend. These restrictions can include minimum distances from business entries, crosswalks, and restaurants and may also include restricted districts. They limit the length of time that vendors can