Thursday, August 25, 2011

How to Revitalize a Street Corner in Under an Hour

By Evan Robertson, Project Associate. 

I’m standing at the corner of Tenth and Peachtree Street in a small empty lot next to a seemingly abandoned restaurant cleverly named Tenth and Thai. For those of you familiar with Atlanta, you’ll know that this particular corner is usually a dead zone. This is a corner you walk past to get to somewhere else. Today, the weather in Atlanta is particularly pleasant. The air is about 85 degrees and there is a slight wind that carries the scent of autumn. It’s lunch time and there are a million things to do back at the office. I push everything that is on my mind aside to concentrate on the task at hand. As I am standing at this corner, there are only two things that are plaguing my mind at the moment: 1) How did this street corner, normally desolate, become an economically vibrant area and 2) Do I want the Lime Fries? 

You’re probably interested by the first question, so I’ll start with that. The answer is quite simple: every Thursday during lunch street food vendors park their trucks and pushcarts in the empty spaces around this corner. This is no small miracle. Both regulations at the city and state level are particularly arcane where street food vending is concerned. For instance, street vendors are barred from selling goods for more than 30 minutes on a public right of way in the city while the state mandates that permitted street food vendors can only sell at one or two locations. Luckily, the aspiring entrepreneurs at Tex’s Tacos as well as their street food brethren have made headway in reforming these restrictions. In doing so, I stand witness to a momentary economic revitalization of an underutilized street corner. The corner is buzzing with people; the line at Tex’s truck is about twenty people deep with more people on the way. Everyone is chattering, solving problems at the office, sharing ideas, and discussing life’s more mundane details. This is perhaps the important unintended consequence of the Atlanta food truck movement: it brings people together. The sharing of ideas, conversation, is the cornerstone of the innovation-led economy. At some point during the creation of every new product, business plan, or idea is an impromptu meeting space be it a pub, coffee shop, or restaurant. Now, thanks to the Atlanta Street Food Coalition, we can add street corners to the list. The presence of the food vendors just goes to show what an informed approach to regulating street food vending can do and illuminates the possible unintended consequences of our decisions. And for the Tex’s lime fries, they transformed the way I think about the French Fry. 

To Learn More About Atlanta’s Street Food Movement: