With today’s post, I am diverging a bit and beginning with a focus on street vending in Los Angeles, where I reside.
At the recent American Planning Association’s Annual Conference in Los Angeles, I participated in a workshop dedicated to informing local efforts to legalize street vending – alarming to some, but, yes, in Los Angeles all street vendors, from the shopping cart tamale vendor to the stand-alone freshly-sliced fruit vendor are, to put it simply, selling their goods illegally. The organizers of the workshop, largely members of the local Leadership for Urban Renewal Now Network, hoped that the workshop could assist in “laying out an innovative municipal code that legalizes mobile food vending and incorporates street vendors into the community to support culture, jobs, business activity, and safety.”
We were broken into different focused groups – safety, public health, licensing, scope of activity, and area. I ended up in the “area” group in which fellow group members and I were tasked with discussing “the areas in which vendors should be permitted,” with consideration of the following questions: Should the ordinance prioritize certain areas of the city? How can the city help drive traffic to areas that need more business activity? What departments should be engaged, and what are the issues we should consider?
On an “informed” whim, I reverted to my knowledge of landscape ecology, given my background in landscape architecture, to rationalize my group’s perspective to the larger workshop group on, if limitations were necessary, which areas should be prioritized. I described the “edge effect,” an edge being where adjacent habitats or environments meet. Particularly notable about edges is how easily and often species flow between these adjacent environments – essentially, edges are where the action is happening, where exchanges and transactions are occurring, and, too, where species are especially vulnerable because of the increased predation that occurs along edges.
My group and I had agreed that transit areas would be an ideal “prioritized area” because of the high foot-traffic provided by these locations “because which vendor (in their right mind!) would want to be in the middle of a patch where there is no traffic? Vendors want to be along the edge, where the action is happening.” In this way, we considered the transit areas, along with their immediately adjacent corridors, as “edges” where bustling movement between different environments occurs. In essence, we had proposed for somewhat of a “transit-oriented development ordinance” tailored to street vendors.
Certainly these concepts’ relevance goes past street vendors, as in the aforementioned transit-oriented development, which could be said to be largely founded on this. Too, it would seem that other concepts of landscape ecology could inform one’s understanding of informal spaces and activities and perhaps provide some coherence and some “logic” to these seemingly incomprehensible and organic forces.
Given my declarations from that day, I decided to look at how my research on street vending in Latin America could validate my points on patches, edges, and street vendors. Here are some findings found in my Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina archives that loosely illustrate how vendors move and congregate along edges: