Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bureaucracy and Cupcakes

I love food trucks. So I started following my faves on twitter. The day I started following Buttercream, a popular and delicious cupcake truck, owner Kate Carrara's followers were alerted to a trying situation for the dessert-peddler: the cops and the City's Department of Licensing and Inspection, who had given Carrara a warning about not being able to vend in a particular spot a few weeks prior, drove her truck away from said spot in her presence. She paid $200 to retrieve the truck.


It's the kind of thing that, if anyone besides cops had done it, would basically be robbery and grand theft auto.

Granted, Carrara should have made sure she was in the right place. But the bigger issue, she says, is knowing where she is allowed to vend. The city's labyrinthine maps and codes do not make this at all clear to a lay person/small business owner/anyone. In a functioning city, a permitted vendor should be able to call up the proper department, name a spot, and be told definitively whether one can vend there or not.

Unfortunately, Philadelphia has not historically been the best example of transparent city government in our great nation. Among the comments in the Inquirer story linked above: "She should have just paid off the L&I everyone else does" - ouch. But this city, including L&I, seems to suffer continuously from stories of corruption and incompetence.

We could say that Carrara is planting this story as a stunt, a campaign to raise her business' profile and drum up sympathy, and, therefore, publicity. But even if she is, it's working for me. This is a woman, a small business owner, who already has a cadre of followers in a city that is notorious for bad government. Even if she's overselling the story, the mere facts are enough to make me feel that the city is more concerned about padding its coffers than helping citizens sustain their livelihoods and making Philadelphia a nice place to live.

Team Buttercream.


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