Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Food Truck Park

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a little benefit event to support Atlanta's nascent food-truck industry. Tonight, some of that benevolence paid off in the form of the Grand Opening of Atlanta's first and only food-truck park, a park dedicated exclusively to food trucks. The cool part is, unlike most other innovative things in this City, the food-truck park is not located far from my home but only about two blocks away.

Atlanta's first food-truck park surprisingly did not open in one of the hipster neighborhoods like Little Five Points or East Atlanta Village, or in Midtown (much to the dismay of Midtown-centric Midtowners), or even along Buford Highway with its ethnic Hispanic and Asian neighborhoods, where it probably would be the most popular and best suited. Instead, it is off Howell Mill Road in Atlanta's resurgent West Side, in a formerly deserted lot behind a Willie's burrito joint. Some of the complaints posted on line (and there are a lot of complaints - just Google "atlanta food truck park" and see), is that it's out-of-the-way location does not lend itself to pedestrian traffic, but is just another driving destination for a City already gridlocked in traffic - and along a street already choked with cars at many times of the day at that.

Fair enough. But it's within walking distance of my house, so let the naysayers say what they will. All day, I looked forward to walking over after I got home from work, fed the cats, and changed my clothes.

But at the last minute, I gave in to one of Atlanta's more unfortunate impulses and decided to drive instead of walk. After all, at 6:30 pm, it was still about 95 degrees outside and the food park, although only two blocks away, was over a mile walk (a forbidding distance by Atlanta standards).

Almost immediately, I realized my mistake. Howell Mill Road, while often choked with traffic at this hour, was particularly slow this evening, due in no small part to drivers looking for a place to park their cars for the Grand Opening. The lot, it turns out, is where people would have parked if the lot itself hadn't turned into the very attraction for which they needed to park. After an excruciatingly long drive around the little park, waiting on people trying to parallel park on a residential side street and dodging pedestrians pushing their children along in strollers or dragging them behind by their hands, I wound up retreating half-way back to my house before parking in front of a Post Office and hiking back again to the food park.

It was packed, almost entirely by young, predominantly white, families. Diversity aside, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing, and I was glad to see a good turnout to support the food-truck movement. There were long lines in front of all the trucks - they were doing good business, without which the park will never succeed. But there was also no place to sit and eat after you bought your food; in fact, there wasn't even much room to stand and eat without being in someone's or something's way.

With all of the traffic on the residential streets and the throngs of people walking around, I had to wonder how great an event this was for the person living in that white house in the background of the picture below.

At some point, you had to ask yourself: how long will people flock to the opportunity to battle rush-hour traffic in order to eat greasy food standing up in the Georgia heat and humidity while breathing in the exhaust of their own cars and of the trucks themselves?

This was the only tree in the whole lot in a position to offer even a chance for some shade, and as you can see, it won't be providing any shade for anybody for a long, long time:

But enough negativity. Grand Openings are always overcrowded (at least the successful ones), and the large crowds indicate the city's enthusiasm and support for something like this. And it's always nice to see something other than a new strip mall or another fast-food franchise opening on the West Side. The promoter told the press that he wants to develop the food park into a full-time venue offering something for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late nights. I, for one, can imagine myself stopping by on the way to work for some coffee and a beignet while enjoying the cool morning air, or stopping by for a bite while returning home from some concert or another. But until they can provide some shade and more places to sit, I don't imagine that it's going to entice me for a mid-day meal any time soon.

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