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Food Trucks Bring New Patrons to City Parks

Visitors line up for food truck fare at the Prospect Park Food Truck Rally.
Credit: Elissa H. Izmailyan

The second season of the Prospect Park Food Truck Rally launched this Sunday in balmy spring weather.  On the third Sunday of each month from April through October, sixteen gourmet food trucks will greet crowds of eager New Yorkers at Grand Army Plaza, a paved area at the Park’s main entrance. Though the Food Truck Rally was initially designed to be a one-time event last May, it has become a monthly fixture in the park in response to its overwhelming success.

Across the nation, food trucks are increasingly popular in city parks.   A new type of vendor is energizing  park patrons, offering new options over and above the typical hot dog/pretzel fare, including everything from locally sourced Vietnamese cuisine (at Boston’s Rose Kennedy Greenway) to lobster rolls (at the Prospect Park Food Truck Rally).

Concession amenities of all kinds can support parks’ success by attracting attendance and extending the length of stay, creating concentrated hubs of activity.  A high quality and diverse food selection can increase these benefits, and food trucks can provide opportunities to enhance both.  With their inherent portability and commercial-grade kitchen equipment, food trucks can combine the flexibility of temporary concessions with the food quality of more permanent venues.  A rotating core of vendors can expand the variety of  concession offerings in a given location, and while vehicles of any kind can feel aesthetically out-of-place in park environments, food trucks can be positioned in highly trafficked hardscapes adjacent to or within parks.

Many parks have begun to host large, highly publicized food truck events with high levels of visitation. For example, the Food Truck Rodeo in Durham features approximately 30 trucks and live music, drawing activity to support the newly developed Central Park.  In Milwaukee, the downtown BID (EastTown) runs Food Truck Fridays in Cathedral Square, which offers a range of lunchtime options on summer Fridays, to support and sustain a lively downtown atmosphere.

Visitors congregate at the entrance to Prospect Park beside the Food Truck Rally.
Credit: Elissa H. Izmailyan

The Prospect Park Food Rally attracts thousands of visitors each month. According to David Weber, President of New York City Food Truck Association (NYCFTA), the organization that runs the Rally, “While just one food truck is more like a service to support another activity…you get 16 food trucks and it serves as a magnet and becomes a destination.”  Major events can overcome barriers to access and draw park users from a broad region; a NYCFTA event at Governor’s Island, which is accessible only by ferry, drew 17,000 people.

While events of this scale must be properly managed  to mitigate the adverse impacts of visitation, they can also generate a range of benefits to parks, including:

  • Attracting visitation:  In addition to drawing high attendance to concession areas, food trucks can increase attendance throughout parks.   Weber describes the Food Truck Rally as a “gateway into the park,” providing a node of activity at the park entrance that welcomes regular and first-time visitors.
  • Providing an amenity:  Park patrons enjoy the presence of food trucks and food truck events, as evidenced by their high levels of success. Welcoming food trucks to parks responds to patron preference and may sustain higher levels of park use and enjoyment.
  • Generating revenue for parks:   Food trucks typically pay rents to park managers in exchange for the right to vend on-site, which can be dedicated to support park operations.

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