Posted by: Heather Forbes | August 11, 2011

Stating the Obvious: Food Brings People Together

Vibrant food cart life in Portland: Could food carts revitalize Vancouver's underused parks? / Photo by Christopher Cotrell

I read a great article this morning over at Project for Public Spaces blog that combines some of the best things about life in the city: parks and food carts.

The article, “The Power of Food Trucks to Calm a ‘Turf War,'” highlights an underutilized park in Evanston, Illinois. A chief reason people gave for avoiding the park was that it was dominated by residents of a nearby mental health facility, making it uncomfortable for other groups to use the space.

To encourage people to use the park, the Evanston Parks Coalition rolled out the oldest trick in the book: they lured them with food. They invited a variety of food carts to set up for a one-day food festival, supplied music and entertainment, and sat back as the park teemed with people who had previously avoided it. The resident mental health patients didn’t disappear; in fact, the food and festivities drew them to the park in far greater numbers than normal. But since the park had been transformed into a destination, no one group was dominating the crowd and everyone was able to feel comfortable in the space.

This story brought to mind a great space in Vancouver: the My Own Backyard Community Garden at Commercial and 11th. Before the garden was established, it was an empty lot frequented by drug dealers and other intimidating characters. Today, it is a vibrant oasis of greenery where families tend their garden plots before playing on the new playground across the street. But, interestingly, the “unsavoury” residents who once frequented the space haven’t been pushed out. You will still find the same characters sitting on the concrete dividers, looking out at a beautiful garden rather than a trash-strewn lot. A few years ago, I helped build the garden’s cob shed, working alongside young families, university students, and residents of a nearby substance-abuse rehabilitation centre. We were drawn together in a project to grow food – imagine how many more people we would have brought together if we had food there to enjoy in the moment!

What do you think of this? Should we start stationing food carts at our problematic parks? I suggest we station a food cart at the Commercial Drive entrance to Clark Park. Where would you place a food cart?

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Responses

  1. Heather,

    Thanks for this! I too am often amazed at how simple yet effective food can be for bringing life to a space. Your stories bring a couple of places to mind for me: a taco stand I saw at the Fruitvale BART station in San Francisco; a fruit vendor outside a secluded subway station in New York; and the permanent fixture of fruit vendors in a bus loop in Hong Kong.

    One challenge for food trucks is balancing the places we want them to be, with making sure that they get enough foot traffic to be economically viable — and that’s where transit, cycling and walking (and therefore some level of density) really shine, because the impulse purchase of eating from a food cart is much better suited to travel patterns by those modes than by car.

    Turning a park into a more “neutral” and welcoming space with a food cart is an intriguing idea!

    Karen


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