Street Vending Makes Public Spaces Better. Stop Criminalizing It.

While recent crackdowns on street vending suggest it is a problem to be fixed, the reality is that street vendors energize urban spaces and make them more accessible for everyone.

November 20, 2019, 8:00 AM PST

By Camille Fink

Street Vendor

Devyn Caldwell / Flickr

Alissa Walker makes the case that street vendors contribute to public spaces in important ways. "In places where city leaders have made very little effort to improve the experience for those walking, biking, or riding transit, it’s the people selling goods or serving food in those same spaces who make streets vibrant, welcoming, and safe for all."

She says that the role of vendors is most evident in the most neglected parts of cities, which feel unsafe without the presence of people. "Waiting for the bus alone at night, at a poorly lit corner in front of a vacant building, just hearing the scrape of plastic stools at the taco stand posted up outside a nearby auto body shop is comforting. I can confidently say I feel safer because people are prepping, cooking, and devouring al pastor on my sidewalk," says Walker.

Street vendors are not criminals, argues Walker, and the recent handcuffing of a churro vendor in a New York City subway station is an example of unnecessary policing of urban spaces. The arguments against street vending, that vendors pose a danger or block sidewalks, are not valid, she says. "When law enforcement officials see a churro cart as an obstacle, they likely don’t understand the value that a churro cart provides to the rest of us."

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