Earlier this month, a woman from Ecuador was handcuffed by police for selling churros in a New York City subway station. Officers confiscated her pushcart—her livelihood—and all its contents. She did not have a permit. But the city has not raised the number of permits since 1983, meaning $200 permits go for $25,000 on a black market dominated by men.
When asked about the incident, New York’s mayor said she shouldn’t have been there because “its creating congestion.” It’s unfortunate to see people in positions of authority cracking down on street vendors. Not only because they tend to be immigrants, people of color, and low-income residents, but because street vendors actually help to build community and make cities feel safer.
Think about it: if you had two routes to walk home at night, would you rather walk along the route that is entirely dark, or the other strung with lights, heavy with foot traffic, and scented with grilling onions? It’s a no-brainer.
Some cities are working toward decriminalizing vending, but the process is frustratingly slow. With that said, if street vendors are truly creating a problem of congestion, then cities that are cracking down on vendors such as LA should also crackdown on the electric scooters that started appearing illegally on the same city sidewalks.
Or they should just recognize what street vendors provide to the residents of a city—which is a tasty treat and a familiar place to gather within the community.