Another Chicago Alderman Moves to Keep Food Carts Out of Affluent, North Side Neighborhood

Another Chicago alderman is moving to limit where newly legal food carts can operate in the city.

Alderman Michele Smith, 43rd Ward, introduced an ordinance Dec. 9 that would ban food carts from a number of heavily trafficked areas in the popular Lincoln Park neighborhood.

The neighborhood is a prime destination for retailers and restaurateurs alike -- the proposed ordinance goes on at length about Lincoln Park's economic vitality.

"Lincoln Park is a diverse arts and cultural hub that serves as a leading destination for tourists visiting the City of Chicago," the ordinance reads.

There's no question that a major driver behind Smith's move is to protect existing brick-and-mortar businesses. Her ordinance notes that Lincoln Park "has the highest ratio of pedestrian-retail street designations throughout the City of Chicago."

The ordinance also says that Lincoln Park is home to over 300 retail food licenses.

Despite spending so much time and energy explaining Lincoln Park's existing retail and dining options, Smith ultimately argues that restricting food carts is necessary to protect pedestrian accessibility and public safety.

It's an action that seems more appropriate for a homeowner's association than a city government plagued with police corruption and a massive debt crisis.

Smith isn't the first Chicago official to use her power to restrict where food carts can operate.

On Sept. 24, Chicago City Council lifted its ban on food carts. But less than a day after this decision, Alderman Brendan Reilly, 42nd Ward, proposed limitations in more than 30 areas downtown and in the city's River North neighborhood. These restrictions passed City Council in October. Alderman Tom Tunney, 44th Ward, pushed through an ordinance in October that limits where food-cart vendors can operate in Wrigleyville, keeping vendors away from busy hubs along Addison and Clark streets near Wrigley Field.

Instead of allowing vendors and customers to decide where food carts can operate, Chicago government officials are taking pre-emptive action to keep upscale neighborhoods such as Wrigleyville and Lincoln Park free of food-cart vendors.

Food carts should be a boon to Chicago neighborhoods, with the potential to bring up to 6,400 new jobs and create more than $8 million in new local sales-tax revenue.
While many of Chicago's more than 1,500 food-cart vendors are eager for the chance to serve their delicious food in affluent areas, they primarily serve low-income neighborhoods where food options are often scarce. And they are a beloved part of their communities - kids pick up elotes for after-school snacks, walkers grab champurrado on cool mornings, and anyone looking for a delicious lunch knows vendors' tamales won't disappoint.

Unfortunately, the hardworking food-cart vendors who fought so long for the city to recognize their industry now operate at the mercy of all-powerful local aldermen, many of whom use their authority to grant political favors and keep out businesses they don't like.

Now that Chicago has lifted its ban on food carts, there should be no restrictions on where vendors can operate. City Council's Sept. 24 vote to legalize the industry was a huge victory for the small-time entrepreneur - it would be a mistake for aldermen to continue walking it back.