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No Place for Street Vendors: Spatial Exclusion in a Changing Immigrant Neighborhood

Authors: Ryan Devlin*, Columbia University, Ryan Thomas Devlin, Columbia University
Topics: Urban Geography, Immigration/Transnationalism, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: Street Vending, Placemaking, Immigrant Enclaves, Public Space
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Downtown Flushing, an East Asian business district in the New York City borough of Queens, is experiencing a development boom, as offshore capital is helping to restructure the physical and social character of the neighborhood. As new hotels, malls, and offices rise, property interests and local politicians are seeking to position Flushing an upscale international business and shopping destination. Caught in the crosshairs of this plan are the neighborhood’s street vendors. New York City Council passed a law in October 2018 banning vendors Flushing’s sidewalks during peak business hours. The law went into effect in April 2019. Flushing’s vendors, many of them selling Chinese street food, were a key part of Flushing’s image as a working-class Chinese neighborhood and food destination, but they conflicted with the new visions for the district being promoted by business and political leaders.

Working in close collaboration with the Street Vendor Project, a vendor advocacy organization in New York, and using a variety of methods including surveys in public space, in-depth interviews with vendors and small business owners, discourse analysis of media and public records, as well as quantitative sidewalk load analysis, this study seeks to better understand the political and economic dynamics underlying the push to ban vendors, the role of planning and policy in legitimizing this exclusion, and the effects of this ban on vendors themselves.

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