Food Fights & Food Carts in Dolores Park
By: Eric Pugatch
The forecast for Dolores Park this weekend calls for more sunshine and yes, more tacos – marking a historic turning point in the lengthy public spat over whether or not to allow outside food vendors in one of San Francisco’s most beautiful and popular public spaces. While the sunshine is a regular and welcome guest this time of year, the first food cart to operate inside the park itself was met with some hostility last weekend, but also some hungry and very happy customers. If done correctly, allowing food vendors in our parks could prove to be a win-win for park-goers and tax-payers alike.
With our city facing incredibly dire financial times and a roughly $400 million budget deficit, San Francisco government should be thinking creatively about ways to generate new revenue. Allowing food vendors into public parks is a smart move with a proven track record of successes here in San Francisco and around the country – and it will generate easy revenue for a Rec and Parks Department that had to reduce their budget by 20 percent this year alone. Not to mention the clear benefits of having good, local food available in the food capital of the world.
The City of Portland conducted a study that sheds some interesting light on the potential impact food carts can have on neighborhood livability and economic development finding that, food carts “have positive impacts on street vitality and neighborhood life in lower density residential neighborhoods as well as in the high density downtown area.”
Studies have also shown that the presence of food vendors in public parks can have a positive influence on public safety by providing more “eyes on the street” and increasing pedestrian traffic. We all know that on a sunny Saturday, people are not something that Dolores Park is lacking. But in other less populated parks in San Francisco, the idea of food vendors serving as a tool for increasing public safety, neighborhood livability and economic vitality is something that should be considered.
Opponents of food carts in public parks are right to point out the potential gateway to privatizing public space and their vocal opposition has perhaps served a valuable purpose by making the Rec and Parks Department think long and hard about what vendors are worthy of working in San Francisco parks. Our government knows that our parks and our food rank incredibly high on the list of what San Franciscans love about their hometown. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt on the Dolores Park food cart experiment – after all, good tacos and sunshine are rarely a bad fit.