Free the food truck

While I admire the Food Truck Challenge in City Hall Plaza to bring food trucks to scale, we should give up on micro-managing the location of every food truck. Instead, public spaces should be rented to food trucks, so the space will go to the truck that values it most. Food trucks can improve Boston’s streets and Boston’s palates — they just need to be free to do so.

http://www.boston.com
September 9, 2010

Free the food truck
Edward L. Glaeser

Boston_mayor.jpg

Mayor Thomas M. Menino considers a sample at the first Boston Food Truck Festival last month. (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)

ECONOMISTS LIKE myself often present themselves as dispassionate data-driven analysts, but I can maintain no such detachment toward the cause of the food truck. When I came to Cambridge 20 years, I was sustained by the kung pao chicken provided by a Chinese food truck parked outside of my office. Now, I want to give back and join the movement to free the food truck from the fetters of unfortunate regulation.

Over the last month — while so many of us were idling away August — Boston became a hub of food truck action. On Aug. 8, Mayor Menino ate pickles at the Food Truck Festival, where hundreds lined up for Speed’s hot dogs and Big Moe’s M&M Ribs. The city has issued a “Food Truck Challenge,’’ where would-be vendors compete for space on City Hall Plaza. City Council President Michael Ross has also become an ardent food truck advocate, and he presided over a City Council hearing last week on easing the regulatory barriers to food trucks.

Why do food trucks matter? In the 19th century, the world was poor and people chose their cities because of wages, which often reflected productive advantages, like waterways or coal mines. As Americans became wealthier, they increasingly chose their locations because of quality of life rather than wages, and that initially pulled people to the simple pleasures of greenery, safety, and year-round warmth found in the sunbelt and the suburbs.

But over the last 30 years, older cities have come back — not just as places of work but also as places of pleasure. Millions now live in cities and commute out to suburbs. In many cities, like Boston, prices have risen more quickly than wages, a sign that people increasingly value urban amenities. The rise of the Consumer City reflects both public successes, like fighting crime, and also the fact that density doesn’t just make cities productive, it also makes them fun.

Cities work economic magic and entertain their citizens by connecting smart people, helping them to learn from one another and to innovate. Shakespeare was no isolated genius; his plays came out of the connected world of London playwrights — Marlowe, Kyd, Greene, Jonson — where ideas hopped easily from writer to writer. Abundant urban consumers enable specialized production, like the chefs in scores of different specialized cooking styles that give cities so much more eating variety than suburbs. As the world becomes better educated and more sophisticated, it craves new experiences — and cities foster the experimentation that makes that possible.

Food trucks are a natural part of the innovative culinary process and they make particular sense for Boston. Boston is a walking city — built on a human scale — and it fits perfectly with eateries that sell on a street corner. Boston is a magnet for immigrants, who often have the skill to create a great meal but not the capital to set up a full restaurant. Boston has a dearth of affordable real estate, and food trucks are a small-saving way of delivering new food options.

So what’s stopping food trucks from proliferating in Boston? The most common complaints are “complex licensing and zoning regulations’’ — would-be vendors say licensing can take many months.

Food trucks do need to be licensed, at least to ensure safe food. Moreover, trucks should be charged by the government when they occupy public space. (Private landlords can presumably make their own arrangements.)

Controlling public space and protecting public health are legitimate reasons for regulation, but the loudest voices against food trucks often come from restaurateurs complaining about competition. Preserving the monopoly power of local eateries is a terrible reason to restrict food trucks.

As in many other areas, a one-stop permitting process that aims at providing speedy approval seems like a step forward. While I admire the Food Truck Challenge in City Hall Plaza to bring food trucks to scale, we should give up on micro-managing the location of every food truck. Instead, public spaces should be rented to food trucks, so the space will go to the truck that values it most. Food trucks can improve Boston’s streets and Boston’s palates — they just need to be free to do so.

Edward L. Glaeser is a professor of economics at Harvard University and director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston. His column appears regularly in the Globe.

© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.

http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2010/09/09/free_the_food_truck/


Brought to you by WikidFranchise.org

Risks: Divide and conquer, Encroachment (too many outlets put in territory), Food trucks, Franchisee-on-franchisee opportunism, Monopoly, Opportunism: contract creates powers which are used to strip investor value during relationship, Raining litigation, Social media marketing, Sunk costs: franchisee's trapped capital keeps them chained to treadmill, United States, 20100909 Free the

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License