Martin recently posted about the lack of success Seattle’s food trucks. There’s plenty of good discussion in the comments about whether food trucks are even a good idea. I thought I’d take a step back and look at what the best system would be, and how to best approximate that system.
If I had a magic wand that could change downtown Seattle exactly how I’d want it, when it came to restaurants we’d have a lot more areas that look like this:
Restaurants with narrow storefronts with walk-up counters for to-go food orders. There would be traditional, deep and wide restaurants as well, but these would be far less prevalent than the skinny restaurants. Workers could run by and buy food to take back to work or eat in a park. Thanks to the low square footage these restaurants would take up, rents could be low which would drive down food prices and drive up business diversity. Now let’s take a look at how much of downtown actually looks:
Not having a magic wand, how would I fix downtown? Tear down these multi-million dollar buildings and start over? No. Build up podiums in the wasted space filled with narrow restaurants and other businesses? Now you’re talking! But I’m not sure how to get building owners to invest in that, plus the cost would likely drive up rents.
This is the point at which we consider street food. If this were an Asian city we’d just allow little carts to run around wherever the business is and sell food. But we’re very health-conscious here (yet somehow we don’t live as long), so we put the food in big trucks that have sinks and refrigerators and look for a place to park them. Of course, finding parking in the city is tough.
My proposal: Use our alleys.
The most underused space downtown, even more than those empty setbacks, is our alleys. Alleys are very useful for shipping and garbage collection, but little else. What if we allowed one side of an alley – say 30′ deep – to be used for street food? I’m picturing a food truck parked perpendicular to the alley, with food carts lining one or both sides from that truck to the sidewalk. Keep the other side of the alley open for deliveries and have the food carts leave during garbage pickup hours.