Somebody’s trying to be provocative.

 

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In this case, Jon Dziadyk in the Journal of the Alberta Professional Planners Institute:

 

Food trucks, once severely restricted by municipal bylaws, are finding sympathetic councils liberalizing rules across Alberta to woo them en masse. It seems some view each additional food truck as a notch in the belt of becoming an ultraurban “live, work, and play” international destination. But does food from a truck taste better than from a proper kitchen? And does their presence add investment into a community?

In discussion with others, it seems that food trucks are appealing for the following reasons:

  1. Support for local business/food producers
  2. Maneuverability
  3. The “cool” factor.

My take:

1.  No business shows more commitment to a neighbourhood than those who risk all to establish a traditional bricks and mortar restaurant. Restaurants are almost always run by community members, and food is often locally sourced – we don’t need a truck to teach us about sustainability. Food trucks appear hyper-profit driven (spending so much time on marketing and lobbying) even though they, ironically, seem to cater towards the “socially conscious”. If a food truck stops going into a struggling neighbourhood, they are further disinvesting in its future: when the going gets tough…

 

2. Why is maneuverability of food a good thing?

If food trucks congregate at a local festival, and they intercept us before we can walk to a traditional restaurant, who is winning in this situation? They also often obstruct sidewalks with their customers, and they consume several parking spaces (including for their humming diesel generators) at the busiest-of-busy times.

 

3. People tend to point to the general ‘cool factor’ of food trucks. In my opinion they are not cool.

I do not like that there are no washrooms for customers (or for the food handlers), and I feel that they are typically overpriced (shouldn’t a truck that doesn’t pay property taxes pass the savings to the customers?). I can’t explain why they are considered ‘cool’, but they are. I predict that politicians will soon routinely pose for photo-ops in front of these trucks during elections, replacing the practice of pouring Tim Horton’s coffee in front of the media.Appi

Yes, Portland has introduced several innovative concepts to the rest of us urban planners such as city-sponsored mixed-use developments, new takes on transit, etcetera; however, not everything from Portland should be adopted without critical reflection. We know that we do not like the extensive American highway infrastructure, but I feel that the food truck craze should also hit the road, or at least they should not be preferentially treated by bylaw over traditional restaurants.

Municipal councils across Alberta should ratchet up the restrictions on these trucks in favour of those who want to put an actual steak in the community (pun intended). Investment in a community should be encouraged by businesses, and other redevelopment will follow – creating livable spaces over the long-term. Let’s build communities to last.

Postscript: Okay, I was trying to be provocative, but it leads to the question: What is the ‘value added’ found within food trucks? Why are they considered ‘cool’? If we can isolate that, perhaps we could apply these principles to other infrastructure. The food truck provides an eerie obsession worthy of further study

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Jon Dziadyk, RPP, MCIP has been an Alberta professional planner for eight years, prior to which he extensively travelled. He is also the author of the eBook novel Murder By Pizza where he provides further commentary on the importance of local restaurants to build community identity.

Comments

  1. Food trucks represent another alternative to restaurants, bag lunches or home cooking. People like having alternatives and choices.

    1. Apparently even carbon spewing polluting ones. Did every “new urbanist” watch the same episode of Portlandia can get smitten by this dubious trend? I have never been able to figure it out. As the author points out on top of all their flaws, they commit the unforgivable sin of not even being cheaper than bricks and mortar despite their lack of amenities or lack of tax revenue generated

  2. I grew up near Edmonton and food trucks are woven into my memories of the “Festival City” that the city once aspired to be (perhaps still does…) To complain about ‘the current obsession’ is to ignore the hearty presence temporary, street-side food has had in Edmonton’s history – well, ok, at least in the ’80s. The Edmonton Street Performers Festival, the Edmonton Fringe Fest, the Edmonton Folk Fest and Klondike Days; all these festivals sought food trucks to immediately “activate” (sorry for the UD jargon word here) the atmosphere. From Strathcona to downtown you could count on summertime streets to feel like a fairground thanks to food carts… Maybe they don’t work in wintertime windtunnel streets, but they are great in sunny seasons! If Alberta’s planners are now moaning about this kind of immediate-impact, liven-up-the-sidewalk, quick-and-colourful urban festival architecture, well… I guess it means the talent for innovation has up and left the province.

  3. Food trucks allow someone to test their concept and build experience without having to allocate significant funds to restaurant overhead. Also who would commit to a bricks in mortar restaurant in Vancouver with the Demo clauses in the lease agreements? Just when you set up shop in that funky old building in East Van its going to be torn down a replaced by a scale busting featureless development

    1. That’s why you get a lawyer to review the lease and not sign it if it has unfavourable terms. And yes, it may be difficult to find a place that fits all of your criteria (including no demo clause).

      Of interest, the presence of a demo clause in the renewal lease is rumoured to be the reason why Starbucks closed the SW corner location at Robson & Thurlow. So even big corporations have the same problems – it’s a part of negotiation and a part of doing business.

  4. Why are food trucks so popular? It is because they are the businesses that source their food themselves and generally from local sources where possible. The bricks and mortar restaurants do not. In front of those restaurants are the trucks from Cisco and GFS (Gordon Food Services) are not bringing in local food. They are bringing in product from the warehouses of the big cities.

    Jon, I appreciate attempts at being provocative, but I do hope that you do not become a planner in the community where I live. I do like those that are willing to look outside the boundaries for solutions. Because a restaurant has a washroom does not mean it is any more sanitary than a food truck. Because its a bricks and mortar restaurant does not mean that it has a ‘real kitchen’ as you state.

    As a planner, you should appreciate designing environs to suit the population and not the other way around. Maneuverability of food allows the restaurant owner to go to the people, not the other way round. It is a more sustainable model for some instances.

    Your community is different than mine. The food truck experience is much more rewarding and much more valuable than the pre-packaged trollop being dished out at most sit-down restaurants. I like being outside, not inside. I like being in more control of my situation. I like my space, not their space.

    Good discussion, hopefully it will continue

  5. I agree 100% with the blog post. I do not understand the truck craze. If we have too many line ups at established restaurants at lunch time we obviously need more of them. How about a pedestrian zone along Robson with a few more permanent food vendors in the middle as a true steak in the community ?

  6. A big plus that he misses (and indeed, writes off as “blocking the sidewalk”) is the life and vibrancy that street food brings to the street. This is the same reason liberalizing patio rules are also in vogue. It’s a pushback against the forces that drove commerce out of the public sphere.

    But mostly, people like having choices, and rules that artificially restrict one business in order to enhance another’s profitability are generally considered bad in a free market economy. It doesn’t matter if that’s protecting taxi companies from Uber, physical restaurants from food trucks, or domestic airlines from foreign competitors…consumers want to be able to decide for themselves rather than have the government step in and tell them who they’re allowed to do business with.

    “In my opinion food trucks are not cool”
    I don’t think that’s for the writer to decide. “Cool,” like all subjective judgements of fashion, is a collective idea that not everyone will agree with, but most will know it when they see it.

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