Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Value of food trucks (Portland Oregon study)

People lined up for Food Trucks, Farragut Square
I have written a bunch about food trucks using DC examples for a few reasons:

1.  They allow businesses to open up for less money than a bricks and mortar location.

2.  They allow for more consumer market segments to be met by a greater variety of cuisines and price points and places--not everyone wants to sit down in a restaurant (I do because I hate waiting in line, but I am not everybody...)

3.  Food trucks can generate capital to open up bricks and mortar locations--if they want, some do, some don't.

4.  Food trucks can also expand the revenue streams of bricks and mortar establishments.

5.  They add vitality and variety to commercial districts that because of limited property inventory and high prices besides, have gotten pretty staid over the years.

6.  Opposition to food trucks by bricks and mortar interests demonstrate that most Business Improvement Districts in the city are shirking some of their responsibilities to plan the retail and attraction mix in their spatial areas separately from their advocacy of their membership's interest.

Mostly, BIDs represent (big) property owners, even though they have retail tenants as members.  But the Adams Morgan BID, smaller and for the most part lacking big properties and therefore with a lot more participation by retail and restaurant owners as opposed to large property owners, has been particularly vocal about opposition to food trucks.

So the Food Cartology economic impact and vitality study conducted for the City of Portland by the Urban Vitality Group is very interesting.  Here is the summary of their recommendations and findings:

The following key findings are based on the results of the data collection, as well as consultation with experts:

1. Food carts have positive impacts on street vitality and neighborhood life in lower density residential neighborhoods as well as in the high density downtown area.

2. When a cluster of carts is located on a private site, the heightened intensity of use can negatively impact the surrounding community, primarily from the lack of trash cans.

3. A cart’s exterior appearance does not affect social interactions or the public’s overall opinion of the carts; seating availability is more important for promoting social interaction than the appearance of the cart’s exterior.

4. The presence of food carts on a site does not appear to hinder its development.

5. Food carts represent beneficial employment opportunities because they provide an improved quality of life and promote social interactions between owners and customers.

6. Despite the beneficial opportunities that food carts can provide, there are numerous challenges to owning a food cart.

7. While many food cart owners want to open a storefront business, there is a financial leap from a food cart operation to opening a storefront.

8. Food cart owners do not frequently access small business development resources available to them, such as bank loans and other forms of assistance.

Based on the data collected, UVG’s recommendations promote the benefits of the industry and mitigate negative impacts. The recommendations were also selected based on their ability to advance the key public values expressed in VisionPDX – including community connectedness and distinctiveness, equity and access, and sustainability – and provide sound guidance to potential considerations for the Portland Plan.

1. Identify additional locations for food carts.

2. Increase awareness of informational resources for stakeholders in the food cart industry by connecting them with existing programs.

3. Promote innovative urban design elements that support food carts.

This reminds of the incremental urbanism arguments by Daniel Slone (see "The future of mixed use development/urbanization: Part 2, Incremental intensification and planned densification").

For different reasons the same conditions obtain and trucks (in retail, not just food) are a tactical response.

In the reauthorization process for Business Improvement Districts in DC, they should be called to task in terms of their acting with a broader perspective than they often do.

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