Street Food: Good eats important on the Path to Prosperity
There's one aspect of Anthony Bourdain's television show "No Reservations" that I always connect with - I'm a big fan of street food. And not just for the obvious reasons of quick, cheap and sometimes really tasty meals. More than anything, I like street food because, well, it gets people out on the street. And if we step back from all the beautiful renderings of attractive buildings and street scenes in our development plans, isn't that the bottom line for what we want - life on the street?
It seems we have a constant tension in our communities between doing the things that actually create life and vibrancy and a desire to "tame" that, or at least pretty it up. In most cases, I'd urge us to let loose the reigns a bit, and allow more spontaneity in the street scene. Food carts, mobile trucks, etc. all fall into this category. I remember in my own city that at least one city councilman wanted to essentially eliminate most sidewalk operations downtown or corral them into a few designated areas. But good cities, (and by good I mean places where people actually walk) are not sterile mall food courts. The best places encourage these sorts of start-up operations as a means to encouraging other forms of business and to add local color and flavor.
In these times of tighter money, it's also good to consider the other benefits of street food operations - they are cheap to start up (entrepreneurial), they can hide ugly parking lots in the short-term (aesthetic), they get people outside and visible (seeds the urban market), they are small enough that a few in a row can relieve monotony (creates pedestrian interest).
So, as you think about ways to take first steps in your walkable areas, please consider the value of street food operations. Review your ordinances and procedures to see what kind of burdens are placed on these operations. Remember the golden rule of community planning - make the good stuff easy to do.