Food cart pods may land on PSU property

More food carts may soon dot the Portland State campus. On Thursday night, members of the PSU community came together to discuss ideas for a possible new food cart pod to be located on campus.

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More food carts may soon dot the Portland State campus.

On Thursday night, members of the PSU community came together to discuss ideas for a possible new food cart pod to be located on campus.

“We’re helping out the EcoDistrict,” said Tom Szymoniak, a professor of civil engineering. “PSU is looking to take our vacant land and redevelop it into a food cart pod.”

Szymoniak and the students in his surveying and drafting classes are working closely with Kate Camp, an EcoDistrict student coordinator, to get the project off the ground.

Locations under consideration are the tennis courts and parking lot on Broadway next to Shattuck Hall, and the Extended Studies Building parking lot on the corner of Southwest 10th Avenue and Mill Street across from Science Building 1.

At the brainstorming meeting Thursday night, attendees were asked to write on a sticky note what a food cart pod was to them and then post it on the wall. Szymoniak led the group in categorizing the notes and then expanding on each category.

Sticking with the idea of the triple bottom line, the groups based the conversation around three primary concerns: economic, social and ecological. Together, these topics inform the idea of sustainability, a priority for the EcoDistrict and PSU.

“That’s what we’re all about—sustainability,” Szymoniak said.

One goal much discussed in the charrette was the creation of a net-zero food cart pod—meaning that the structures and their inhabitants won’t have a measurable impact on the environment. This concept sparked many ideas in the ecological category.

Ideas tossed around included a compostable toilet, a biodigestor, a living wall, the use of solar energy, rainwater harvesting and the use of gray water. One of the locations may be able to host a garden, and one student attendee mentioned tree preservation.

The conversation then turned to the economics, and many voiced a preference for local businesses. Brian Forrester, a social entrepreneur, pointed out the benefits of local business.

“When you spend a dollar at a local business, I think about 60–65 percent of that stays within the local economy,” Forrester said.

Forrester added that he’s currently working with a company that is working to put an iPad kiosk at the block of food carts on Southwest 10th Avenue and Alder Street. The plan is to have a digital menu on the iPad so that customers have the ability to pay with a card and the carts will not lose out on non-cash business.

One of the primary topics of discussion was the food cart pod as a gathering place. Attendees discussed aspects they would like to see and things that are either great about or missing from already existing pods.

Since this is Portland, there was much discussion about seating—and providing a covered, heated and lit area. Operating hours were also considered, as was the possibility of alcohol service at certain times of day. A bike area, parking spaces, restrooms, drinking water and a hand-washing area were things most people agreed would be beneficial.

Finally, the group discussed logistics. Since both locations are currently used for parking, the pod would have to be able to make up for the loss in revenue. Kristine Robbins Wise, the retail services manager for PSU’s Auxiliary Services, said that the university is looking at a five-year payback period, at least.

Szymoniak said that affordable rent for the vendors—in the $550 to $700 range, including power—is important.

The goal of Thursday’s charrette was the development of a vision, which Szymoniak’s classes will now begin to put on paper. A second meeting will be held on June 6.

The group is hoping to get more people from the city and other student groups to come and discuss their ideas.