Are Food Trucks Good for Community?

A look at Alexandria’s situation.

There is a lot of hubbub in Alexandria, Virginia at present. The town—part of one of the oldest historic districts in America—has been debating whether or not it should allow food trucks on the streets. And while citizen opposition is strong, the city has finally allowed the trucks to sell their goods: The Alexandria City Council voted 4-2 to pass a 16-month trial for food truck sales: they’ll be allowed to vend at “parks, schools, churches, farmers’ markets, and other private property over a 16-month trial period beginning July 1,” according to the Washington City Paper. On-street vending, however, is still illegal for now. The Washington Post talked to locals who are unhappy with the move:

Most of the 50 people who came to testify on the matter … [were] ready to argue against allowing food trucks in historic districts, along congested streets or in curbside competition with rent-paying restaurants.

Despite the wild popularity of food trucks in the District, Arlington County and elsewhere around the country, the Alexandrians who spoke up Saturday displayed a strong streak of not-in-my-historic-back-yard-ism.

“Woefully inappropriate,” said resident Poul Hertel, to allow food trucks in historic districts or along the GW Parkway.

“Most businesses have to apply to change the color of their signs,” said resident Bob Wood, “while every food truck I see competes to look more garish or ‘hip.’”

It may seem that a “conservative” approach to this situation would be to hold on to the norm—to ban the food trucks, in favor of more anchored, traditional restaurants. Another supposed conservative approach might be to favor a complete “free market” approach: allowing the food trucks to run riot through Old Town, setting up shop on any old cobblestone street they favor.

But a truly conservative approach must be both balanced and thoughtful—protecting the old, while embracing new measures that will complement civic life. We must consider the impact, for good and ill, that food trucks might have on Old Town Alexandria, and consider ways we could  bring the most benefits, while avoiding harm to the character of the district. I think the New Urbanist approach gives us some excellent insights into the way Old Town could maximize this new market for the benefit and enjoyment of its local community.

Read the rest at The American Conservative

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