Land of the Midnight Food Truck?

Think food trucks are a big city thing? Think again! Even the small town of Inuvik, NT is grappling with the trend, even though they have just one truck (actually it’s a trailer) called Ready Red’s, not to mention a climate that makes street vending realistic for just a few short months each year. Brick-and-mortar businesses have complained as have taxi drivers and even some residents. A similar situation has played out in dozens of towns and cities over the last six years or so, ever since the “modern” food truck boom began.1

With my passion for food trucks and the fact that I lived in Inuvik for eight years when I was a kid, I’m quite interested in the outcome of Ready Red’s fight. It’s fascinating to me that the same arguments are made again and again in different towns and cities. At the opposite end of the scale from Inuvik there’s New York, which has been dealing with complaints about food trucks for years. Some places clamp down on food trucks, others work hard to support them. Even locations that are relatively close together can have very different approaches; for instance, San Diego heavily regulates food trucks whereas Los Angeles is quite open to them.

Welcome to Inuvik, photo by Chris Harrison

In today’s Inuvik Drum, the news brief read:

“Following complaints about the Ready Red’s mobile food trailer parked near the Mad Trapper, the town’s bylaw review committee has recommended banning street venders from parking along Mackenzie Road in the core area.

Instead of using existing roadside parking spaces, the town’s bylaw amendment would move street venders on to private property, similar to how Bill Rutherford operates his grocery business.”

Bill Rutherford is affectionately known to locals as “Bill the Fruit Man”. He brings fresh produce from Whitehorse to Inuvik every three weeks in a large semi-trailer. I remember going to buy groceries with my parents from his truck, parked in an empty lot on the main street2. I guess you could say that was my first exposure to a “food truck”.

Josh Tyler is the owner of Ready Red’s and he was at Inuvik’s Town Council meeting last night to make his case. He also started an online petition that currently has over 270 signatures. Josh promised to have “a mob of people and supporters” with him at the meeting, and it sounds like he delivered. Mayor Floyd Roland said he had never seen such a turnout for a council meeting!

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look good for Ready Red’s. The proposed bylaw that would ban food trucks on town roads passed first and second reading. It still has to pass third reading before it would become an official town bylaw. If that happens, Ready Red’s would only be able to operate on private property3.

Downtown Inuvik

That’s a photo of Inuvik’s main street, Mackenzie Road, in the winter, which is pretty much how I remember it. You’d think this would be a big enough barrier for food trucks in the north! Ready Red’s parks just to the left of where this photo was taken.

Should towns and cities embrace food trucks? I’m inclined to say yes, because I think food trucks bring more than just good food to the table – they also promote street activity. At least one study makes a strong economic case for food trucks too (PDF):

“Street sellers can create jobs, help keep streets safe, give consumers the goods and services they want and add to the vitality of cities. But for that to happen, cities must get rid of the convoluted and protectionist laws that stand in vendors’ ways.”

The authors of that report recommend eliminating or revising obsolete restrictions, repealing bans on street vending, repealing proximity restrictions, streamlining the permit process, and providing clear, simple, and modern rules that are narrowly tailor to address health and safety issues. “Then they should get out of the way and let vendors work.”

We’ll have to wait and see if Inuvik decides to put up barriers or instead decides to let food trucks flourish. Inuvik Town Council meets on the 2nd and 4th Monday and Wednesday of each month, so their next meeting will take place May 26. Minutes from last night’s meeting will eventually be posted on their website.

If you’re in Edmonton, don’t miss our first What the Truck?! of the season, taking place on 104 Street on May 24. RSVP on Facebook!

  1. Richard J. S. Gutman, author of “American Diner: Then & Now”, estimates the food truck industry can be traced back to Walter Scott who back in 1872 parked a wagon in front of a local newspaper office in Providence, R.I. and sold sandwiches and pies. The beginning of the modern food truck era is generally believed to coincide with the popular Kogi Korean BBQ truck, which burst on to the scene using social media about six years ago. See: Who Made That Food Truck? 

  2. Has Inuvik changed much since I lived there? Some things change, some stay the same. The fruit man still sells his produce, but my elementary school was demolished a few weeks ago

  3. I’m not 100% certain, but it looks like Ready Red’s began life on the sidewalk, as a hot dog and burger stand, back in 2011. 

Heritage, Innovation & the Livable City: A Northern City

There were three concurrent panel sessions this morning, which means we had to choose. I ended up going to the one called A Northern City. The panelists included: Rod Macleod, retired professor of History & Classics at the University of Alberta; Mark Nuttall, professor and Henry Marshall Tory Chair in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alberta; and Heather Zwicker, associate professor of English at the University of Alberta.

Tagged as the “Gateway to the North”, Edmonton has also been described as “a northern city of art and ideas”. Yet its northernness is often overlooked in understanding the city and region, as well as its connection to the “south” and other northern places.

As someone who grew up primarily in Inuvik, NT, this panel caught my eye. I was quite familiar with the idea of Edmonton as “a northern gateway to the south” – something the panelists talked about. Here are my notes:

  • Rod started by highlighting the two things that we think about as a northern city. The first, climate, gets a lot of attention. The second, isolation, is something we think about far less. Rod says to draw a 500km circle around northern cities. With the exception of Edmonton and Moscow, you’ll find lots of other places in those circles.
  • Despite the creation of the rival city of Strathcona, the construction of the railroad from Calgary had surprisingly little effect on our northern orientation, according to Rod.
  • He talked at length about our history as a transportation hub more than a trading post, noting that the air freight industry was practically invented here. He talked about the arrival of the airplane, and how it replicated the region’s previous economy: bringing furs south, taking supplies north.
  • Something to look up: the Aerosmith map of 1832, which has great detail north of Edmonton but not much south.
  • Rod suggested that while “facing north” has made us culturally self-sufficient, being a part of the northern frontier has ingrained in Edmonton a reluctance to plan and build for the long-term.
  • Mark picked up here, nothing that although there are lots of places further north than us on the globe, northernness actually has very little to do with latitude.
  • He noted that in Canada, the term “north” has often been synonymous with “marginalized”. That’s not the case in other places. He also observed that as places develop, “north” seems to move further north. When a Walmart arrives in Whitehorse, is still the north?
  • Mark finished by discussing the Arctic Council and how the north is becoming centre stage, thanks to climate change and other global issues. Canada assumes the chair of the council in three years, which provides an opportunity for Edmonton.
  • Heather discussed the literature surrounding Edmonton as a northern city, starting with Alice Major’s Contemplating the City, and Erin Knight’s Bribing the Boundary God.
  • She said the river plays a key role in most of the literature, either positively or negatively – is the river an obstacle, or a way in and out of the city?
  • I thought the notion of Edmonton as “the cosmopolitan north” was quite interesting. Heather said the notion of “cosmopolitan” is up for grabs, saying that “Brooklyn is the new Manhattan”.

Another interesting concept came up in the questions. Mark had said that before moving to Edmonton, he had never lived away from the sea. And while Edmonton doesn’t have a traditional port, we are something of a “port city” thanks to Fort McMurray and other northern communities. I immediately thought of the Port Alberta initiative as well.

What I took away from the session is that being a northern city is much more a mindset than anything else. There are physical elements of course, but it’s the intangible part of being in “the north” that has probably had the biggest impact on Edmonton’s development.

The Melting North

Post ImageNope, this isn’t about global warming – sorry activists (don’t you know most of that global warming stuff is hogwash anyway?) – it’s about Inuvik, where my parents live. Well, Inuvik and Aklavik. For those of you who don’t know, Inuvik is a planned town, created because Aklavik used to flood all the time. It’s been about fifty years since it last happened, but Aklavik has completely flooded again, forcing an evacuation:

River water started to flood the community Friday, and many roads are still underwater. The hamlet declared a state of emergency, flying 300 people, mostly seniors and children, out of the community over the weekend. Most of the evacuees are staying at Inuvik’s army barracks, while others are staying with relatives.

Apparently the water is really high in Inuvik too, according to my Dad:

There were ice chunks the size of cars. There were trees of all sizes. There was a 1000 litre fuel tank. There was a telephone pole. The annual spring break-up of the Mackenzie River is under way and it takes anything that stands in its way with it. This years break-up has the river higher than I have seen it before in my 16 years here.

The other interesting thing about break-up is that prices rise temporarily, as goods must be flown up. Normally trucks can drive up, crossing the river either using a ferry in the summer, or just driving right over the ice in the winter.

Hopefully the break-up will be over quickly. My Dad has a good set of pictures if you want to check it out, complete with telephone poles floating in the river!