Archive for November, 2010


Mapping the Food Cart Ecosystem

November 30, 2010

I just completed the excellent “Cartopia” by Kelly Rodgers and Kelley Roy and it has helped fill in my understanding of why food carts have blossomed here in Portland and what their impact on the economy is.

Some of the success factors include:

  • Carts are treated as vehicles (even if mostly stationary) and therefore avoid building code regulation (attached structures like covered seating areas are covered by building code).
  • Multnomah County health regulations, while thorough (the same as for restaurants) are reasonably streamlined and fees not too expensive.
  • The building slowdown of the last few years has meant that there are property owners motivated to collect rents from their otherwise vacant lots.
  • Start-up costs for carts have been assisted in part by micro-lending (loans on the order of $15,000) by Mercy Corps and other non-profits.

In addition to the direct economic effects of carts (the 500+ carts in Portland are estimated to collectively pay several million dollars per year in rent), the ‘cart economy’ has spawned secondary enterprises like commissary kitchens (regulated spaces where vendors must prepare any food not actually prepared in the carts themselves), several specialty cart builders and related services like gray water management.

So what’s the take-away learning here? I think three things are core to the phenomenal growth of food carts in Portland:

  1. A passionate food community willing to experiment and innovate
  2. An efficient and cost-effective bureaucracy for the essential government involvement (health inspections)
  3. Benign indifference on the part of government to non-essentials (i.e., carts are not regulated as structures because they are ‘vehicles’)

I highly recommend the book and continue to enjoy the energetic urbanism of our food-cart scene. I’d like to think this kind of micro-enterprise model could provide the ground-floor opportunities in other sectors of our economy!


Filling in the Pieces for a 20-Minute Neighborhood

November 18, 2010

A great citizen-created video on what needs to happen to create 20-minute neighborhoods outside the ‘traditional’ Portland neighborhoods.


Veggie Cart?

November 18, 2010

A while back I speculated about whether the “food cart” model could address other urban services needs in an affordable way.

Recently I heard a fascinating story on NPR from Detroit, where “Peaches and Greens” provides healthy fruits and vegetables in “food deserts” in that city.

Could we do that here in Portland? Who would be the logical provider(s)?

P.S. Tonight I dropped by the book release party for “Cartopia, Portland’s Food Cart Revolution” to pick up my copy. Can’t wait to read it.


Beginning to Untangle West Hayden Island

November 8, 2010

Over the next year the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability will be sorting out the various (contentious) pros and cons of creating Port of Portland docks on West Hayden Island, answering City Council’s question of whether it is possible to develop 300 acres of terminals while preserving 500 acres of habitat. At the end of the process, our Commission will be asked to weigh in with a recommendation. We’ll get our first briefing on Tuesday, which will outline staff’s workplan for analyzing the questions involved.


4-6-9 Outline for Portland Plan?

November 1, 2010

The Portland Plan Advisory Group is beginning to ponder the potential strategy groupings for the Portland Plan. This will inform the next round of Public Open Houses that will happen in February and March.

The current draft structure is 4 Principles, 6 Drivers of Change and the same 9 Policy Areas that we’ve worked within for the first two phases of the plan. To break it down:

4 Principles (aka Goals):

  • Equity (fairly distributing benefits and burdens)
  • Safety and Opportunity (success in education, economically and quality of life)
  • Health (people and planet)
  • Resiliency (framed in terms of climate change, but I think this is great way to think about sustainability too)

6 Drivers of Change ( aka strategies)

  • Economic Opportunity
  • 20-Minute Neighborhoods
  • City Green
  • Environment for Learning/Education
  • Innovative Technologies & Practices
  • Equitable Decision-making

And the 9 topic areas we should all be familiar with now:

  • Prosperity and Business Success
  • Education and Skill Development
  • Sustainability and the Natural Environment
  • Human Health and Safety
  • Equity, Civic Engagement and Quality of Life
  • Neighborhoods and Housing
  • Design, Planning and Public Spaces
  • Transportation, Technology and Access
  • Art, Culture and Innovation

My “big question” at the moment is whether six strategy bundles is the right number. I don’t have any problem with the fundamental outline of the strategies, but I wonder if we can really keep in six different things in mind as we make the real world choices that will make the plan succeed or fail. Everything I know about human psychology suggests to me that three is a much easier number of things to carry around in our heads.

So I’m going to be looking for ways to re-combine and re-package these ‘drivers’ as we work through this phase of the plan development. Please help me!