Legalizing Street Vending: Lessons from Los Angeles

With new regulations poised to add 400 new vendors to New York City's streets every year for the next decade, city leaders can look to L.A.'s recent legalization efforts for guidance.

June 13, 2021, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Hollywood, Los Angeles, California

Elliott Cowand Jr / Shutterstock

As New York City gets ready to permit hundreds of new street vendors, Alissa Walker suggests some lessons the city can take from Los Angeles. "New York City, where antiquated street vending policies have created a competitive black market for permits, is poised to see a dramatic expansion of its street vendor system for the first time in four decades. Intro 1116, passed earlier this year, adds 400 new permits per year for a decade starting in 2022." 

In Los Angeles, the "city council has had an ordinance decriminalizing vendors, backed up by a state law, the Safe Sidewalk Vending Act, passed in 2019. The city’s official permitting process began in January 2020 at a discounted rate of $291; later in the year, the city council made $6 million in grants available to help vendors pay for paperwork and equipment." But many L.A. vendors are trapped in a paradox: in order to pass inspection, vendors are required to have expensive cart setups that many of them can't afford, on top of permitting fees.

Community activists are working to find solutions. "Creating dedicated food hubs could help bring together vendors and mutual-aid groups to become a gathering place where neighborhoods could tackle food insecurity, says Todd Cunningham, the food and wellness organizer at Los Angeles Community Action Network, which is trying to improvise on that model when it serves community meals on Skid Row multiple times per week." Another organizer, "Carla De Paz, senior organizer at Community Power Collective, is working with the city on developing a 'special vending district' permit, that’s somewhere between a special event permit and a farmers market permit, she says."

Despite New York City Mayor de Blasio's promises to support street vendors, "[n]ot only are vendors still getting ticketed, some neighborhood groups, including alliances and BIDs, have found new ways to discourage vendors from selling on their streets, as a recent throwdown at Hudson Yards demonstrated." To succeed, the new permit system should also address "[c]ode compliance, changing laws at the state level, better relationships with regulators," and, critically, support for infrastructure such as communal prep kitchens, or commissaries, which help street vendors meet permit requirements and reduce costs.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021 in Curbed

Street-level view of sharrow symbol on asphalt with parked car in background

How Sharrows Became Cycling’s Most Hated Symbol

Originally designed as a low-cost way to encourage safer road sharing between bikes and cars, the sharrow has become a symbol of the lack of commitment to protected bike infrastructure in many cities.

August 2, 2022 - Denverite

A image of the World's Columbian Exposition overlayed with a picture of Keanu Reeves in the rain from the movie Point Break.

Keanu Reeves Set to Play Daniel Burnham in ‘The Devil in the White City’

Planning is going to get a new level of star power as a limited series adaptation of The Devil in the White City gets ready for television screens in 2024.

August 8, 2022 - Reel Chicago

View from middle of street in downtown Telluride, Colorado with mountains in background

Marrying Urban Identity and Economic Prosperity

A new book posits that truly successful communities have a strong economic base and a firmly rooted sense of place.

August 5, 2022 - Governing

Women Public Space

Urban Design Through a Gender Lens

Building cities to be safe and accessible for women and LGBTQIA+ people has benefits for all users of public space.

44 minutes ago - Architecture Daily

Rendering of downtown Milwaukee sports stadium with soccer field

Sports Stadiums Bring Few Economic Benefits

While their developers often tout jobs and local economic development as benefits of major stadium projects, research shows these venues often make little impact on local economies.

1 hour ago - Urban Milwaukee

Dallas Freeways

A How-To for ‘Freeway Fighters’

Ten recommendations for effective freeway removal advocacy.

2 hours ago - Strong Towns

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.