We’ve talked many times about the benefits of having street vendors in cities. They provide an active positive street use, act as a community gathering place, transform vacant and sometimes blighted land, and food cart vendors offer affordable food options in neighborhoods. Yet, there’s another benefit to street vendors around issues of public safety. Street vendors help act as, what urban planners call, “eyes on the street”. This means the vendors know their streets well, and notice if anything is amok. They are watchful and diligent. Street vendors are often first responders when crime or other disasters occur.
Take the recent NYC Times Square bomb scare. From the NYC based Street Food Vendor Project:
In case you haven’t heard, NYC street vendor Lance Orton (left) and other vendors are being declared as heroes around the world for spotting the car bomb in Times Square yesterday and taking quick action to report it to the NYPD. Thank you, Lance, for your quick and selfless thinking. You are a hero for your service in Vietnam and you were a hero again yesterday.
There’s even a Facebook Page to ask Mayor Bloomberg to take these fine Street Vendor Heroes out to dinner.
A big salute to Lance Orton and all the other street vendors out there who do what they can to keep citizens safe.
NYC and other city governments are not always welcoming and supportive of their street vendors. NYC especially has had a history that ranges from excessive permitting to proposals to downright ban vendors altogether. Let’s hope in light of this recent incident that cities realize street vendors are about more than just hawking cheap goods and food, they are about keeping communities safe.
(note: updated 8:11PM May 5, 2010 to reflect that these were street vendors, not specifically street food vendors).