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Impeding Pittsburgh’s growth with green grass & wedding vows

Pittsburgh just celebrated national PARK(ing) day. Since 2005, it seems, the third Friday of September is spent by various creative types and activists in various cities promoting the idea that urban areas need more green space, more open space and more places to get married or renew their vows.

That last part was what local event planner and food blogger Quelcy Kogel decided to do with her parking space. “I’m a hopeless romantic at heart, and I think about weddings a lot,” Kogel explained to City Paper. “I’m not sure when the ideas merged in my head, but it’s been lurking for a while, and I decided this was the year to make it happen.”

Making it happen meant taking over a parking space normally used for actual vehicle parking and turning it into a space for something else. Aside from weddings, there were spaces for turning cartwheels, spaces for lounging on a turf of grass and spaces for sitting at a picnic table.

Innocuous enough perhaps, unless and until you consider who couldn’t use those spaces: mobile food truck operators. And not only on PARK(ing) day, either. In Pittsburgh, food trucks are limited in where they can operate 365 days out of the year.

The reason is that the city has very old regulations about ice cream trucks that prevent today’s operators from staying in one place for more than 30 minutes, or parking at a metered space or parking closer than 500 feet from a “similar” food vendor — restaurants primarily. As any food truck operator will tell you, it takes a half an hour just to set up shop, let alone cook and serve customers.

When asked to characterize these rules, Christina Walsh, director of Activism and Coalitions at the Institute for Justice, calls them “protectionist and one of the most onerous in the nation.”

Why is the city more focused on green spaces than on increasing economic growth of the city? According to Mayor Bill Peduto, who had been a staunch advocate of reforming these regulations before he became mayor, the city has chosen an even better option than fixing outdated laws. It’s a hands-off approach and not ticketing food trucks if they park in the wrong place.

Food truck operators are thereby encouraged to break the law in order to run their businesses. Really, Mr. Mayor, encouraging law-breaking is the best option? Meantime, promoting using parking spaces for anything other than parking is more important than helping small business to flourish here.

Pittsburgh’s misplaced priorities aren’t unique, however. The United States is currently ranked No. 46 on the World Bank’s list of countries where starting a business is easier rather than harder. Not being able to legally park your food truck for more than 30 minutes where customers might be plentiful counts among the benchmarks for ease of starting and operating a business.

But can we really blame the city for refusing to face up to the avalanche of red tape that impedes growth? Green grass and wedding vows� are prettier.

Abby W. Schachter of Regent Square is writing her first book, “Captain Mommy vs. Nanny State: Taking the Government out of Parenting” (Encounter).


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