The rise of mobile food vending in US cities combines urban space and mobility with continuous online communication. Unlike traditional urban spaces that are predictable and known, contemporary vendors use information technology to generate impromptu social settings in unconventional and often underutilized spaces. This unique condition requires new methods that interpret online communication as a critical component in the production of new forms of public life. We suggest qualitative approaches combined with data-driven analyses are necessary when planning for emergent behavior. In Charlotte, NC, we investigate the daily operations, tweet content, and spatial and temporal sequencing of six vendors over an extended period of time. The study illustrates the interrelationship between data, urban space, and time and finds that a significant proportion of tweet content is used to announce vending locations in a time-based pattern and that the spatial construction of events is often independent of traditional urban form.
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF URBAN AND REGIONAL RESEARCH (2015)
The socio-legal technology of licensing is one of the primary tools governments use to manage spaces and practices deemed risky or threatening to public order. Licensing requirements thus play a crucial role in shaping routine experiences in public space as well as the trajectories of emerging forms of public life. Yet licensing laws have largely been ignored in critical urban scholarship: too often concerned with the interpretation and critique of popular practices and public spaces, the mundane operations of urban governance are often left to practitioners and policy researchers. This article demonstrates how paying closer attention to licensure can provide valuable and unexpected insights into matters of social equality, urban amenity and economic opportunity. It does so through a comparative inquiry into practices of street food vending in New York City, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon. Drawing on ethnographic study and interviews, the article demonstrates how licensing can be involved in the production of quite peculiar and unjust geographies of practice, but also how shifts in popular culture can force a reconsideration of taken-for- granted laws. In conclusion, it is argued that a focus on licensing offers a productive pathway for new forms of critical urban research and provides a potential point of leverage in efforts to configure better and more democratic forms of urban public life.