Fighting for dog space in cities

With ownership of dogs on the rise, it is trickier to find public space in cities for the canines and their owners:

It’s not surprising that relations between dog walkers and dog owners are fraught: They’re competing for finite real estate. Market research shows dog ownership has skyrocketed some 29 percent nationwide in the past decade, an increase propelled largely by higher-income millennials. As young adult professionals increasingly put off having families, dogs have become “starter children,” as Joshua Stephens wrote in The Atlantic in 2015. With demand growing, cities and developers are building more dog-friendly zones both in response to and in anticipation of more four-legged residents. Off-leash dog parks are growing faster than any other type of park in America’s largest cities, with 2,200 counted as of 2010.

And when square footage is at a premium, dog parks are the setting of some of the most contentious fights for public space….

Resistance to dog parks takes on a different tenor when animals seem to displace humans in housing-crunched cities. New dog owners are disproportionately younger and whiter than the residents of the cities they move into, and that has real estate implications: For one third of Americans aged 18 to 36 who’d purchased a first home, finding better space for a dog was the primary motivator, according to a SunTrust Mortgage poll. When young, white, affluent dog owners snap up properties in historically lower-income neighborhoods of color—and start advocating for amenities like dog parks, which can bump up property values further—the optics are complicated…

Consider that, on Chicago’s predominantly black South Side, there’s not a single designated dog park, despite the efforts of local dog-owners and city aldermen. To address the needs of lower-income communities like this—as well as gentrifying ones—planners should approach dog parks as they do any other, says Wolch: listen to, and account for, their needs in an ingenuous way. To mitigate the displacement effects of a property value pick-up, affordable housing solutions should come to the dog-park planning table, too.

Three quick thoughts:

  1. It would be nice to know more about the “average” dog park. What does it cost to build and maintain compared to the typical park? How many people does it serve and what population does it cater to? Is it a good public use of space compared to other options? (One thing that article above does not address is whether there is an overall shortage of public space.)
  2. I’m surprised there isn’t more creativity in developing solutions. If land is at a premium, could there be some dog parks inside structures? Imagine a high-rise where one of the amenities is half a floor of dog park space. (I assume this is feasible.) Where there is more available land, such as on Chicago’s South Side, why couldn’t community groups or private interests put together a dog park? Imagine a non-profit that buys vacant lots and improves them for this purpose or an organization that charges a membership fee to their dog parks.
  3. At this point, it sounds like dog parks are more of a luxury good usually located in wealthier or whiter neighborhoods. What would it take to incorporate dog parks into public planning processes and/or see dog parks as necessary parts of thriving neighborhoods? Dog owners could band together and demand dog parks.

Rise of “the doggie equivalents of McMansions”?

The New York Times recently had a story about luxurious dog houses. A short blurb about the story in the New Yorker called them “the doggie equivalents of McMansions.” Here is a little bit from the NYT description of the world of luxurious dog houses:

Take, for instance, the Palladian-style mini-mansion that Glenna and Ed Hall bought at a charity auction three years ago for about $300. With Jeffersonian columns that match the ones on their home in Roanoke, Va., the two-foot-tall doghouse makes a perfect accent for the garden. No one seems to mind that the garden is off-limits to Maggie May, their 28-pound whippet-borzoi mix — least of all Maggie May…

As Michelle Pollak, an interior designer who creates custom doghouses under the name La Petite Maison, observed: “Half our clients say, ‘Hey, we’d like a replica of our home for the dog,’ and half say, ‘This is the dream house we’ve always envisioned but couldn’t afford in real life’ — like a French palace for the French poodle.”…

DOGHOUSE design tends to be popular with architects and home builders, who sometimes refer to it as “barkitecture” and donate their creations to charity auctions that raise money for animal shelters. Designers say they love doghouses because they’re small and fun and allow lots of room for creativity…

THERE are many designer doghouses, but perhaps the only one with a cult following was, not surprisingly, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The doghouse was created in the 1950s at the request of Jim Berger, a 12-year-old who wrote to the architect to say that his black Labrador, Eddie, needed a home.

This raises a set of questions:

1. Should McMansion doghouses come in for the same sort of criticism McMansions receive?

2. Are people who live in McMansions themselves more likely to build their dog a McMansion doghouse?

3. Are there critics of “barkitecture” in the architecture community?

My, your lawn is lush and green…especially where the dogs were!

Record temperatures in Chicago have meant green lawns ahead of schedule. This is not usually considered a bad thing: the brown or dormant grass of winter has given way to verdant lawns that wouldn’t look out of place in the many lawn commercials one can see at this time of year. However, in walking around, I noticed that these lawns are often punctuated by more lush spots, presumably from the work of dogs. Here is one picture from an adjacent neighborhood:

Some thoughts about this:

1. The typical “perfect lawn” doesn’t include such spots. So if someone has pets and wants a great-looking lawn, how do you balance these two interests? Cut the lawn a lot? I haven’t noticed any products talking about this kind of fertilization.

2. Perhaps this is a bigger problem in townhome/condo/apartment neighborhoods where there are common lawns. To curb their dog, people walk about the neighborhood and use the common areas. Why use spaces close to your home when you can take advantage of other areas? (Additionally: you are paying for those other areas so why not?)

3. Some patterns emerge: I would estimate at least 80% of the spots were within four feet of the sidewalk. This likely says more about the dog owners than the dogs: the owners want to stay on the sidewalk so the dogs have to stay close by. Also, taller objects, signs, mailboxes, trees, etc. tended to have lusher grass around them. Here is another shot that also shows the first pattern:

Does anyone get upset about this desecration of the lawns? If the battle is between dogs and a perfect lawn, it looks like the dogs win at this time of year.

The McMansion for dogs in the sculpture park

A sculpture park in St. Louis has a new exhibit for dogs that includes a McMansion:

This summer, Laumeier Sculpture Park hosts “Dog Days of Summer,” an exhibit that allows visitors to ponder the dog/human relationship while giving their pets a chance to romp free across the park grounds…

The exhibit’s centerpiece, “Not Without My Dog,” is an interactive dog trail installed outdoors. Designed by Finnish artist Tea Makipaa, the art piece has six stations dogs can examine as they wind their way along the park’s nature trail.

“It’s a place where dogs can be themselves and we can better understand how they perceive the world,” Venso said.

One of the interactive stations, called “Dogs of USA,” has several contemporary versions of doghouses. Venso said one burned-out house represents Detroit. Another is built in cookie-cutter “McMansion” style. A third is an eight-story brick tenement doghouse.

What an interesting collection of “contemporary” doghouses: a burned-out house, a McMansion, and a tenement. Why these three and what is the message behind them? Perhaps they simply represent interesting settings that allow the sculptor to show some creativity. (Who will be the first to take a picture of a dog going to the bathroom on the McMansion in the park and post it gleefully online?)

I’m going to have to check the website of the sculpture park to see if they include any pictures of these three doghouses after the exhibit opens June 25.

SI cover story on Vick says “You can’t turn away”

The story of Michael Vick seems to bring out the passions of sports fans. For those who love stories of second chances, Vick is a great example – a guy who didn’t play up to his full talent in Atlanta, ran into trouble, but now is playing great and seems to have turned the corner. For those who love dogs or think NFL players (and athletes in general) get too many breaks, Vick is a perfect example: just because he is a possible MVP candidate, Vick gets a free pass for his bad behavior.

The recent cover story in Sports Illustrated explains the situation:

The Vick paradox is simple: You can’t look away from the beauty, and you can’t quite forget the brutality. His game is rivetingly kinetic, and now that Vick’s commitment to football is making itself evident, it’s impossible not to wonder how good he can be. Yet his infamous stewardship of the Bad Newz Kennels created a discomfort that has endured longer than the usual distaste for bad actors. On Thursday, Goodell stopped in Philadelphia and, 14 months after he lifted Vick’s playing ban, spoke of the “message” behind Vick’s rebound, the “lessons” to be learned. “We need our kids to see that kind of success story,” Goodell told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “This young man has turned his life around, and he’s going to contribute.” But Vick’s tale is not that tidy, and it’s far from finished.

For some, Vick might never be able to make up for what he did. But if he proves himself to be a winning and successful NFL quarterback, many will look past his transgressions. And along the way, he is likely to get paid handsomely in salary for his efforts.

More broadly, Vick’s situation raises all sorts of sociological issues: should athletes get a second chance? Should anyone who mistreated dogs in the way he did get a second chance? Can jail time rehabilitate people or are they tainted forever? Can Vick become a hero or role model in the future? If Vick can’t be redeemed in the eyes of most Americans, who can?