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Give food trucks a trial run in Birmingham

Fast, fun, friendly. When many of us venture out of the city limits of Birmingham, whether to local haunts like Ferndale or downtown Detroit, or to New York or Austin, Texas, we're enjoying unique and delightful comestibles from mobile food trucks. Whether from a hot dog or soft pretzel vendor in the Big Apple to taco trucks in southwest Detroit or farther afield, a fast, one-of-a-kind meal, usually quick and affordable, hits the spot.

It can also allow a newer cook or chef to hone his or her skills, save their money, and prepare themselves for prime time.

Many years ago, we admit, we were opposed to bringing food trucks into downtown Birmingham. Our reasons were primarily as a protective measure for the brick-and-mortar establishments in town. Yet, as businesses slowly begin to bring workers back, many of whom are in their 20s, 30s and 40s, with limited lunch hours and budgets, the reality of Birmingham is that there are fewer and fewer affordable lunch spots available. Coneys, smoothies and pizza are good, but everyone needs a variety in their diets.

We were disappointed that the Birmingham City Commission ended their meeting on June 14 before they got to an agenda item on food trucks. The last time it was discussed was 2011, when a proposed moveable and parked vendor ordinance was tabled when 21 restauranteurs and retailers showed up at the city commission meeting to contest the ordinance, which “would allow vendors in designated locations within the downtown area. These vendors will be defined as moveable vendors as they will be permitted to occupy a particular location each day, but their cart or stand must be removed every night.”

In 2014, Andres Duany, the architect of the city's 2016 Master Plan, returned for a recap, and recommended adding an assortment of affordable food trucks at lunch time to the adjacent parking lot behind the band shell in Shane Park. His suggestion was to give the idea a trial run and then decide whether to continue and fine tune the rules governing food trucks.

Time, and tastebuds, have mellowed our perspective, and we agree with Duany. Just as areas around Campus Martius in Detroit are filled with an assortment of various food choices via affordable food trucks, drawing office workers, youth and tourists, so too would downtown Birmingham benefit from the opportunity to offer culinary choices that are not available at inexpensive price points. Losing a few parking spots for a couple hours a day during the week is money well invested, as the city will see more people walking all over Birmingham.

We suggest Birmingham try it later this summer and early this fall, or if that is too soon, plan for next spring and summer.


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