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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 8, 2010 10:44 AM. The previous post in this blog was Tri-Met board signing fiscal suicide pact today. The next post in this blog is Beta Theta Mahonia. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Nonstory of the Week


Streetcar Smith likes food carts.

Comments (23)

Do they have any suggestions on how parity can be achieved between the bricks and mortar operations and the food carts. Also, do the food carts operate in a pure cash environment or do they have a few more IRS constraints that the the bricks and mortar people operate under.

One interesting (and telling) aspect of urban planning careerists like Seltzer is how they pick and choose what should be protected and encouraged, and what should be left alone or discouraged.

You'd think it was a thoughtful process of choice, but it's not; it's an ideological one. Latching on to "food carts", in other words, is a policy fad--like, say, "bicycle-oriented transportation" or "transit-oriented development" or "20 minute neighborhoods".

The only real difference between these kinds of fads and, say, the kind of jean fashions that teens wear, is the time scale and ego involved. At least jean marketeers acknowledge that they're creating a fad and fads are ephemeral; many career planners like Seltzer, however, treat the ephemeral fads as brilliant strategies to fix long-term problems.

Instead, they just create problems fr future planners to undo with even more brilliant fads--like, say, the South Waterfront, or entire neighborhoods that cater to a thin slice of the citizenry (Pearl). The beauty of urban planning, though, is that it doesn't seem to have a long-term memory.

For example, consider these excerpts carefully:

For a few bucks, city residents, employees and employers, visitors and lucky passersby can find food worth eating. What would ordinarily be urban dead zones -- vacant lots, parking lots and empty sidewalks -- get new life in a down economy without public subsidy. Small entrepreneurs get a chance to ply their craft. Established restaurants and nearby businesses get walk-by traffic that would never be there otherwise.

The judgments made by the authors? (1)Food cart food is good (and you'll be lucky if you eat it);
(2) food cart pods locations, without food carts, would be "dead zones" (despite most being parking lots that were--surprise--put there by urban planners); and
(3) food carts provide foot traffic for other businesses that would otherwise be absent.

Notice that none of those assertions are based on anything; they sound good though, don't they?

Opinions differ about the aesthetic appeal of our food cart pods. The Oregonian's editorial board warned of them turning into "restaurant shantytowns," while we'd join Jane Jacobs and William Whyte in calling them the kind of urban street life that other communities can only dream of.

Again, a values-laden paragraph, but not based on anything at all. Food carts are romantically labeled as "providers of street life" that other communities "can only dream of". But if you pull of the gauzy romantic veil, you see--surprise--nothing more than people grabbing a quick, cheap bite and moving on. Nearly all food carts downtown are lunch-oriented--people buy and run. The carts shutter up in late afternoon, and begin prep for the next day. I can't imagine what prosaic "street life" a burrito cart or hot dog stand in front of a high-rise office building provides, but I imagine that Seltzer and Smith could conjure a dream sequence to explain it.

You may call them "pods," I call them food favelas.

Food carts embody the Portland ethos: Food made by chefs who can't afford to own a restaurant sold to diners who can't afford to eat in a restaurant.

Looks to me like he likes them just a tad too much.

I can't believe it took over an hour and a half for someone to make a comment to that effect. Nice restraint, people!

"Urban Street Life". We have lots of that in my neighborhood. They rifle through the recycle bins for cans and bottles every Thursday night.

Cheap food is not a fad but a needed reality for many.It seems to upset the over 50 crowd that needs to be feted after to feel satified. Don't they control enough in this city? Good food need not be available to only the privileged,roll up the dockers and skip the wine list, you might just enjoy it.

Two weeks ago, I got lunch at a Thai food cart downtown. Cost? $6.

Yesterday, I got lunch at a brick and mortar sandwich shop downtown. Cost? $6.25. And nobody feted me afterward.

In fact, the places that compete with food carts charge about the same as the food carts. People that want something a little better--a nicer meal, better service, a warm (or cool) place to sit--go somewhere else.

I eat at food carts. I find it odd that, like many Portland issues, people equate critical thinking or discussion with "hate" or "rejection". I'm not a fan of Randy Leonard, but I'm confused as to why it's not perfectly reasonable to enforce standards of safety and cleanliness.

Here's probably the next big story in food carts: somebody hurts themselves in a makeshift "food cart pod" shelter, and sues. Then, watch the complaints pour in that the city didn't do enough to enforce regulations when the people realize that the *city* is being sued, too.

I think we want all of our city's dining establishments to succeed, and the seating areas and other additions cart owners or their landlords are building are unfair to storefront restaurants who have a thicket of codes, rules, and fees to navigate. I think Smith and Setzler are deluded if they think Randy and the BDS staff can handle this with the diplomacy and finesse they are urging, but I do think the Fireman is right to take up the issue.

Instead, they just create problems fr future planners to undo with even more brilliant fads--like, say, the South Waterfront, or entire neighborhoods that cater to a thin slice of the citizenry (Pearl). The beauty of urban planning, though, is that it doesn't seem to have a long-term memory.

The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continued. --George Orwell

Streetcar Smith likes food carts because they are mobile and can adapt...but he hates buses because of the same reason.

Streetcar Smith loves the Streetcar because it's "permanent" but food carts aren't...

I'm confused...do you want to establish development like fixed condo bunkers to create an environment, or do you want a permanent, transportable environment? If the former, then streetcars are great but why food carts when these restaurants can take up empty storefronts? If the latter, then why bother with streetcars and these uber developments, and instead focus on quick pop-up solutions - and BUSES which can easily adapt and re-route?

Or...if you're a Portland Planner...the solution is "Because I think it's cool, and I don't care what you think, so buzz off." (And replace the word "buzz" with a certain word that rhymes with "duck", starts with a "f", and that Dick Cheney likes to use.)

I don't recall Jane Jacobs talking or writing about, but I'll pull her works off my shelf and check. Now since these two are so in favor of this type of small businesses I wonder how they'd feel about letting a few small businesses get into the transportation market. Maybe some jitneys, ride sharing cabs, a few bus companies. I'll be looking for a comment, but I won't hold my breath.

You can't just compare various properties of completely different things like that, Erik. I like food carts (more during the summer…), I don't like mobile homes. I don't think that's a contradiction.

Ecohuman - you write 700+ words, yet I'm not sure what you're complaining about or what your point is. Are you hating on someone for simply being, what you call, an "urban planning careerist"? What's your point? Fads are bad? Food carts are bad? Entrepreneurship is bad?

I find it odd that, like many Portland issues, people equate critical thinking or discussion with "hate" or "rejection". I'm not a fan of Randy Leonard, but I'm confused as to why it's not perfectly reasonable to enforce standards of safety and cleanliness.

What's the "critical thinking" that's under attack? I don't find anything in the linked article or above comments that this speaks to. I'm actually not sure about Jack's point either. Why bother posting a "nonstory" headline about a nonstory?

But since he did, I think the only point being made here is that some foodcarts may have strayed outside the letter of the law with some of their construction. If some have created a dangerous situation for the public, fix it. However, if some have strayed but not put the public in peril, don't bring the hammer down for no reason. Don't treat them differently than you would a homeowner you added on a deck or a fence outside BDS's strict requirements.

Ecohuman - you write 700+ words, yet I'm not sure what you're complaining about or what your point is. Are you hating on someone

That's the kind of knee-jerkiness I'm talking about. You ask me if I think "food carts are bad", claim to have read my posts--but somehow, missed the "I eat at food carts" part.

What's the "critical thinking" that's under attack?
That should be obvious--critical thinking about food carts that's quickly painted in several locations as something akin to "hate speech".

Why bother posting a "nonstory" headline about a nonstory?
I give up--maybe so you could take time to post a lengthy comment on it?

I think the only point being made here is that some foodcarts may have strayed outside the letter of the law with some of their construction.

You're not sure what the point is of this "nonstory", but you seem to find a point after all. Actually, I have no idea what Leonard's enforcement intention is, and wasn't commenting on it.

However, if some have strayed but not put the public in peril, don't bring the hammer down for no reason.

Existing code enforcement that food carts have fllowed for 20+ in Portland is "no reason"?

Don't treat them differently than you would a homeowner you added on a deck or a fence outside BDS's strict requirements.

Yet building code does (and always has) treated them differently, because they have different purposes, different liabilities, and are on different kinds of property.

Joey, why not just post an honest comment, stating that you like food carts, that you have a job in the public sector, and you like the article Seltzer and Smith wrote? It'd be refreshing.

Oh, and about this:

"...while we'd join Jane Jacobs and William Whyte in calling them the kind of urban street life that other communities can only dream of."

As far as I know, Jane Jacobs never wrote about "food carts". My guess is that Seltzer and Smith (and this article is mostly Seltzer) are talking about Jacob's oft-repeated term "eyes on the street", or her praise for the incidental human contact that happens in places where people walk and pause to interact.

Jacobs had a dreamy, romantic notion of dense, highly urban areas functioning like small towns. Many planners still dreamily quote her as if her prosaic descriptions of people stopping to chat with the grocer, etc. were actual fact, or even much of a historical fact.

Meanwhile, planners (and mainly, policy hounds like Smith and Seltzer and Adams) pursue the highly *mobile* city, one that increasingly gets and gives its critical goods from *elsewhere*. By, say, flattening part of West Hayden Island to build international coal and car staging areas, or granting money and tax freedom to any international business that wants to do business here. Adams has repeatedly said he wants to make Portland "an international city"--whatever that means. The examples are too numerous to list.

So food carts become a cute cause celebre upon which to heap their lack of wisdom and a way to dodge a true effort to make a city of an appropriate scale and truly focused on local resources. The policy efforts--following Jacobs' call for planners to see what's working on the street and support it--become weirdly schizophrenic attempts to prop up the economy and retain power and ideological continuity. Food carts and other fun, superficial efforts become media darlings because the *seem* like a David and Goliath story. They're not.

And for more details (and Jane Jacobs worship), you can see some of the source of the Smith/Seltzer thinking here:

www.portlandonline.com/bps/index.cfm?a=200738&c=52798

Ecohuman - I asked what your point was. But rather than answer a simple question in a straightforward way, you continue rambling (WHI?), contradicting yourself, and making assumptions about what I do for a living.

What's the relevance of your incorrect allegation that I have a job in the public sector? More off-topic rambling?

Personally, I don't think such things are relevant, but as you apparently do I'm sure you'll soon be sharing details about your job. Go ahead. Post an "honest comment."

PS - I think the reference to Jacobs was more about her advocating for a more fine-grain urban fabric.

Joey, I've seen lots of your comments here on Jack's blog. Most are of the type like you've posted here--snarky, without much substance, and almost always about the style of other posters' comments rather. By "honest post", I mean simply this--why not instead spend your energy explaining your own point of view, rather than engaging in the weird and ironic self-abuse of criticizing Jack's post as a "nonstory" by posting your own long, snarky comments about it?

If it wasn't for the food carts there would basically be no place to get a cheap and tasty lunch on my break from work downtown. The only real options would be chain fast food like McDonalds or Subway. I don't have the time to go to a nice sit down restaurant for lunch--nor would I spend the money.

I feel inclined to comment when I see demagoguing and generalizing about people who are *trying* to actually serve the City of Portland, such as "urban planning careerists like Seltzer," city workers, environmental advocates, etc.

I try to balance substance and snark, and I'm not surprised by your scolding me for not being substantive enough. I'll take your concern with a grain of salt.

Any potential foodcarts vs. BDS conflict should be easily solved with critical thinking. Any oversight that was lacking will be restored, BDS will figure out what it's doing, and how it will effect food carts and their patrons. There will be arguments over whether it's common sense or unnecessary bureaucratic red tape. And the vast majority of foodcarts, their patrons, and the people who live and work in Portland will continue on.

Trying to pull some greater meaning out of this regarding "international cities" or West Hayden Island is silly. I think people who want to make more out of it than it is have another agenda.

I feel inclined to comment when I see demagoguing and generalizing about people who are *trying* to actually serve the City of Portland, such as "urban planning careerists like Seltzer," city workers, environmental advocates, etc....I try to balance substance and snark, and I'm not surprised by your scolding me for not being substantive enough. I'll take your concern with a grain of salt.

Q.E.D.

I like the selective cut and paste. But at least you're not rambling...


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