When I went to the national APA conference in New Orleans 2 years ago, I went to a session on what was new in LA.  One of the things they spoke about was how Twitter had revolutionized the food truck industry in LA.  And it wasn’t just food trucks in general- it was gourmet food trucks, of all kinds.  No longer was the presence of a  food truck only indicative of a movie set or tons of tasty tacos.  You could get kobe beef, gelato, and Indian food!

I thought it sounded interesting at the time, not only as a person who enjoys a variety of food on the go, but from a planning perspective as well.  The ideas of taking restaurants outside of their solid locations, of which may not be known to much of the general public, and roaming them throughout the city, is great!  In a city as large and diversified as LA, theres really no better way to take your business and spread it around to new audiences.  I’m sure that for the City of LA, its provided new planning issues, such as where are they allowed to park, permitting, etc- but I’d like to think its worth it.

Even better are the new food truck gatherings happening.  Its one thing to see on Facebook or Twitter that your favorite organic hotdogs are coming your way, but when you know they’ll be joined by dessert, lemonade, and something for all of your friends, its even better!  I recently went to one in my neighborhood, and its amazing the amount and diversity of people who come out.  Parked along a major street, 30+ food trucks provided dinner for my group last Friday night.  With some local businesses staying open later to attract the food truck diners, small tables and chairs set up, and music playing from most of the trucks themselves, its become a local event in itself.

Maybe it was the happiness of a belly full of tasty locally made food, but being at the weekly food truck gathering has made me think about what these sorts of events mean to a community.  We don’t have the same kinds of events or live the kinds of lives that brought people in a community together that we used to.  While we obviously still go out and do things, so much of what we do gets us in the car and far away from where we live.  Okay, so Farmers Markets are becoming popular, and those are great- but they attract one kind of crowd, and I feel that these food truck gatherings attract a slightly different one, which is important.  Because like Ray Oldenburg said, we need third place:  a place that isn’t work, and isn’t home.  Its like the local pub, as opposed to the swanky bar we get dressed up to go to.  People need casual places where they can be themselves but also socialize and relax.  Its the kind of thing thats stuck around better in older parts of cities, especially in Europe (think of Parisian cafes and English pubs).  Its something we’re lacking in suburban America.  These food truck gatherings, though, may be a start to something in that direction.  It will be interesting to see how they grow and change how we interact with our communities, and if the stick around long enough to become a permanent thing.  I hope they do.