Street Vendors Can Help Make Great Streets

Street vending is illegal in Los Angeles. This surprising fact is something that 40 L.A. organizations hope to change this year, thanks to a motion currently making its way through City Council.

Legalizing street vending will create thousands of jobs and bring healthier food into low-income food deserts through a proposed incentive program. It’s about  time that we embrace the thousands of vendors who are operating in the informal economy, many of them women who are chronically unemployed and in desperate need of income to support their families. They are not criminals; they are entrepreneurs.

But street vendors offer us more than just their food, they offer an example of how creativity and a people-centered approach to entrepreneurism can make L.A.’s streets safer and more pedestrian-friendly. Street vendors contribute to great streets.

This has been heard time and time again in town halls that the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign hosted last year across the city to inform our advocacy efforts. Speaking with over 600 people, we learned that street vendors are ambassadors of the sidewalk. Vendors are trusted members of communities, innovators in how to use the public right-of-way to attract pedestrians, and purveyors of culture that makes neighborhoods truly special.

It’s not uncommon to see a flower vendor beautifying the street with her colorful bouquets, a taco vendor modifying a cart with wheels to increase his mobility in a neighborhood, or an ice cream vendor ringing her bell to call to customers as they walk by. To me, these things add value, and even help to slow down some of our streets so pedestrians can appreciate the small businesses that line our commercial corridors. They remind us every day that the sidewalks belong to us.

In this respect, some businesses have begun to see the value of vendors, too. Recently, a business owner who signed on to support the Street Vendor Campaign explained that after experiencing a violent robbery at her business in South L.A., she realized that it might have been avoided if there were more pedestrians on her block. In her opinion, a street vendor could attract more pedestrians, while offering a vigilant presence around her establishment. The great urbanist Jane Jacobs described it well as “eyes on the street,” which can only help to make our communities safer.

This story is only one of many that describe how vendors are working with small businesses in an attempt to attract pedestrians and make streets safer. In some cases businesses and street vendors are even partnering by selling complementary goods or sharing spaces to keep retail establishments active beyond traditional business hours.

Currently, the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign is monitoring the development of a cross-departmental report that will suggest how the City Council can develop a permit system for street vendors. In order for the initiative to be successful, it’ll be important for all of us to get involved and recognize the role street vendors play in making our streets more vibrant, more economically viable, and more pedestrian-friendly.

Jobs. Healthy food. Safe streets. There are so many great reasons to legalize street vending in Los Angeles. But here’s another surprising fact -- of the ten largest cities in the U.S., Los Angeles is the only city without a street vending permit system. It’s time for us to catch up. I’m confident that we’ll not only see gains in employment and food accessibility, but we’ll also see the emergence of a new energy that will draw people out into the streets to enjoy Los Angeles.

Rudy Espinoza is a supporter of the Los Angeles Street Vendor Campaign. Learn more at and

This article is from our 2014 report Footnotes: A Report On the State of Walking in LA. Donate to get a printed copy. Special thanks to Melendréz for funding the printing of our 2015 Footnotes report.

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