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“Placemaking:” Sidewalk cafes and mobile vending

In the last few weeks I’ve written about how, when I re-upped as the committee chair for COBE in 2010, I made it a goal to focus on land use as service, as a means to an end. I talked about the ways I wanted land use to serve the greater good of our city, which includes creating affordable housing and supporting great neighborhoods with healthy business districts and great gathering places. We’ve accomplished a lot when it comes to ensuring better design of buildings and, a couple of times, we’ve reached over into the street use code in order to improve our chances of getting great places and economic boosts for small businesses.

I’m proud that we succeeded in giving new flexibility to sidewalk cafes and loosening restrictions on mobile food vending. In planner-ese this is part of what’s called “placemaking,” but you could also say it’s just smart neighborhood and small business development. Walking down sidewalks this summer it was great to see people hanging out in new outdoor seating or see the tell-tale spray marks on sidewalks delineating planned outdoor seating.  One evening in upper Belltown I even got sit outside myself and talk with friends watching the world go by. A great luxury.

Helping food carts and trucks land in more places and be more successful strikes me as also smart neighborhood and small business development. Like everyone else I’m still waiting to see how mobile food vendors make use of the new street and sidewalk flexibility we approved this summer. I met a friend for dinner recently at Mr. Gyro in Greenwood and learned he’s underway with a truck and application. He’s now my test case.

If you know of anyone looking to get into the business, you can direct them to check out the Seattle Street-Food web portal – a one-stop-shop for interested mobile food operators to better understand the mobile food permitting process.  The portal includes a link to the Seattle Street-Food Checklist, which operators can print out to use while obtaining the necessary permits. 

Sidewalk seating and mobile food vending are part of my vision of land use (and street use) in service of economic rebound. Opening a food truck has a relatively low barrier to entry in terms of capital—what lenders call “low income, low asset startups.”  Make no mistake though. It’s still an expensive endeavor (as evidence, check out the niche market of food truck van retofitters), just not as expensive as some other ways to start a restaurant. The new flexibility and support are great ways the city can help hard-working entrepreneurs who want to innovate and be their own bosses.

This is my last blog entry looking back at the last term. Now that we’ve approved the 2012 Budget, everything is rolling again, and it’s time to start looking forward toward the future of our city.

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