June 17 2011

Los Angeles Street Vendor Economy: “Latino Urbanism”

Pring..pringgg…little bells and the yodeling of Tamaleeeees! is heard on Los Angeles’ Ceaser Chavez Boulevard. Street vendors fill the air with the smell of bacon wrapped hot dogs, their whistles and antojitos (treats )to suit your taste buds. On Sundays, once a month, all of Broadway Boulevard turns in to a tiangis (yard sale) where apartment dwellers come out in droves to sell their wares, along 12 blocks, also serving as a busy transit road.

Informal economies, such as street vendors in East Los Angeles, are a part of the landscape. They typically work on sidewalks, with heavy pedestrian traffic, near parks, plazas, schools, intersections, and parking lots. The items they sell include, but are not limited to, pre-packaged snacks, cooked food, fruits and vegetables, toys, clothing, household items, and counterfeit merchandise.

Unfortunately, street vending has come under attack by the Los Angeles City Council and local authorities. Law enforcement has written thousands of tickets costing vendors several days of earnings. Officers often confiscate the property and goods of the vendors leaving them destitute.

Los Angeles was designed for the car and this auto-centricity has created serious health issues, including air pollution and discouraging people from walking. One urban planner has looked at how street vendors actually help promote walkability and pedestrian friendly streets in Los Angeles; James Rojas makes the case that any restrictions will actually be creating a worse situation in an already car congested city.

“Allowing street vendors the opportunity to profit from the use of public rights-of-ways could be a new way to make Los Angeles’ increasingly unsustainable, auto-oriented infrastructure more compatible for pedestrian uses.”

This is a non-traditional way of creating space and more, place making, if you will, which Rojas has coined, “Latino Urbanism;” the creative culture and adaptation that exists as an informal urban design element. Latinos are not remaking these places in the sense of construction; they are instead discovering latent “place-ness” in landscapes that already exist.

Furthermore, Latinos are going to continue to take advantage of these spaces because we come from a culture of outdoor plazas and markets.

Jose Gamez, a professor of architecture at UNC-Charlotte, agrees. “The stereotypical white picket fence in the suburban landscape is a very different kind of fence than you’ll see in East Los Angeles,” he says. “Not in terms of materiality but in terms of social use.”

Public policies are changing and desperate street vendors have turned to their council members. Councilmember Huizar, in 2007, understood that in order to preserve the culture of the Boyle Heights community, he needed to preserve the street vendor community. Collecting over 1,000 signatures with the help of ELACC (East Los Angeles Community Corporation, they created a Street Vendor Committee who supports the preservation of this informal economy, simultaneously preserving work that is the only means for some of these community members.

This creative solution is working in other areas of Los Angeles, including downtown and the fashion district. Sellers can now have permits and sell in designated areas, and set up without fear of being harassed for violation. Again, this is all part of the new adjustment that planning is having to observe in order to make policies that meet the needs of citizens, in an ever-changing city.

What are your thoughts on street vendors? Do approve that they should be able to, without permit, sell their goods? Or should permitting be mandatory? What is your viewpoint?

This entry was posted on Friday, June 17th, 2011 at 2:14 pm and is filed under Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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