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street vendors

Small-scale, non-corporate entrepreneurs in kiosks, mobile carts or specialized vehicles who sell food, periodicals, cigarettes and other sundries in urban areas. They add color and life to plazas where office-workers and other citizens pause to eat or drink outdoors (a more accepted activity than in many European public settings). Certain specialties— hot dogs, knishes and chestnuts in New York, City pretzels in Philadelphia, PA, or ethnic specialties in other neighborhoods—also demarcate territory and identity. Other vendors specializing in books, art, jewelry and illegal reproductions of designer clothes represent more problematic agents of street life—some, for example, appear only at night when police surveillance is lax. Here, regulation of access to public space through licensing, limited locations and taxation have raised questions about rights of free speech in the 1990s, as cities balance vitality against middle-class consumers and established stores. This has been an especially acid debate under Mayor Giuliani in New York, but other controversies about changing street life have emerged on the Washington, DC mall and with regard to food trucks serving collegiate campus life. In the end, these debates are not only about commerce but also about public space and citizenship.

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