What does a 1950’s Regulation Have to do with the Disappearance of Your Favorite Food Truck?
No “vendor, hawker or huckster shall park a vehicle at a metered parking space to offer merchandise for sale from the vehicle.” According to the New York Times, this Transportation Department regulation has been on the books for at least 60 years, but has not been actively enforced in recent memory. However, a May 24th ruling by Justice Geoffrey D. Wright in the NYS Supreme Court defined food as merchandise, reactivating the old law. A police crackdown has purging Midtown of the Rickshaw Dumpling Truck, the Desi Truck, the Kimchi Taco Truck, among others.
Food trucks allow entrepreneurs to bypass crippling commercial rents in New York, opening up small-business ownership to a wider range of people. The trucks add to the cultural landscape of the city, allowing people to interact with public space in a novel way. Finally, many food trucks produce cheap, innovative and delicious food. On the other hand, the restaurant owners who are paying the crippling commercial rents are not pleased with competition springing up on their doorstep. Idling trucks are terrible for the environment, and there are many people who are mad about the lost parking spaces.
While the city has been struggling with whether to encourage or discourage the seemingly exponential growth of food trucks, some real estate developers have looked to the recent clampdown as an opportunity. The Rockrose Development Corporation has recruited a group of food trucks to set up shop on a lot in LIC, Queens. Some vendors who will be using the lot are the same ones who got kicked out of Midtown. Food truck courts have long been a fixture in other cities, including Austin, Portland, and Los Angeles. A comment on a New York Times article about the new food-truck court in Queens reveals the contested nature of space in New York City, even outside of Manhattan: “as a rent paying, fixed space, local restaurant owner, can’t say I am happy about the news.”
The contest over street space between vendors, the city and business owners is an age old battle. It will most likely continue, as long as real estate in New York remains an expensive commodity. A few days ago, the food vendors along Forsyth Street and the Manhattan Bridge have been evicted, most likely temporary. The city has a tumultuous relationship with vendors on 125th Street and booksellers on West 4th Street for the last twenty-five years. The Essex Street Market – still in operation on the Lower East Side–was open in the 1930s by Mayor LaGuardia to reduce pushcart congestion in the neighborhood. In fact, pushcart vending in New York has been regulated here since 1691, when it was a tiny Dutch colony.