On November 27th, the Dog Park committee appointed by the Kansas City City Council and the KCMO Parks board will begin meeting to provide recommendations for dog parks in Kansas City. Improved usage of city parks has been on Mayor Funkhouser's agenda from early on in his tenure, and I know that my post recommending increased penetration of dog parks made it on his desk as a possible solution.
Initially, the city parks board passed a policy that would prevent a dog park from going into a park that was smaller than 100 square acres. However, they waived that policy awaiting the recommendation of the park's board.
I cannot stress enough how important I think dog parks are for Kansas City. Our parks are completely underutilized. About 45% of the people in our city have dogs...and in a city of nearly 600,000 people, we have 1 dog park. That's not nearly enough.
There is a great story in the Washington Post about dog parks in the Washington DC area (hat tip to Deb Hipp from Woof passing this along). For many people in other areas of the country, dog parks have become a fabulous meeting ground for the people in the neighborhood. Single people who are new to town often meet their neighbors, friends (and story mentions several spouses) at their neighborhood dog park. They've become a popular meeting place. And as neighbor's meet neighbors, and hang out in the city's parks, they become better neighborhood watchdogs (which brings down crime) and increases satisfaction of living in areas. There is also anecdotal evidence that points to neighborhood dog parks actually increasing home values significantly as people look for this amenity.
The Post article has a lot of great quotes in it that sum up my thoughts on a lot of the opponent's argurments against the dog parks.
"At first people questioned why we were building parks for dogs", said Tim White, director of the Fairfax County (VA) Park Authority. "But they're not for dogs. They're for people. Saying you're building a dog park for dogs is like saying you're building a golf course for golf balls."
"We realized a long time ago that these parks weren't about the dogs so much but about people coming together and building communities," said Steve Temmermand, division chief for Arlington Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources. "There are potluck supper clubs, book clubs, people exchange movies, all kinds of stuff. It's an entire social network. People have met their boyfriends, girlfriends and spouses at these parks."
In addition to being good for dog owners, well exercised and socialized dogs make people MUCH safer from potential dog bites and attacks.
I've provided a lot of thoughts in the past about what I feel the committee should do, but for the committee, here are a couple of my recommendations:
1) Build a couple of regional-sized dog parks, similar in scope to the one current city dog park at Penn Valley Park. Using a couple of the city's larger regional parks like Hodge Park, Minor Park, Swope Park and Barkley Riverfront Park would provide large regional dog parks.
2) Get these large parks largely funded through advertising opportunities for businesses. Sponsorships of certain things like benches, a bulletin board, fencing, trees, etc would be good advertising for animal-related companies and would offset some of the costs of the parks. Culver City, CA provided a fabulous model for how this might look to offset these costs to the general public.
3) Once these are complete (which should be sooner rather than later), neighborhoods should be allowed to propose neighborhood off-leash areas. While many of them can be fenced, I don't think fenced off-leash areas are a requirement. As long as people are able to control their dog and get it to come to them using hand signals or verbal commands, then they should be fine running in an off-leash area without a fence. These should all be subject to neighborhood approval, but should be open for discussion.
4) One final thought on this is that there are many areas of the city that could be regionally set as dog parks. Here is an example of a dog park in Toronto (hat tip Marjorie) that is a seasonal dog park. During the spring, summer, and early fall, the area of the park is a used for baseball leagues. However, once the baseball league season is over, the baseball park is completely unused. So they have put up a temporary snow fence to fence off the area so that for 6 months of the year it can be used as a dog park. Driving around our city, there are dozens of these softball and baseball fields that get no use from October -March and could be fenced off for use as dog parks. Just another way of meeting Mayor Funkhouser's goal of increasing usage of the city's park space.
Hopefully our committee that is headed by architect and former city council hopeful Mel Solomon will come up with some good recommendations. Even more hopefully, our city appointed parks board will listen to their good recommendations and follow through with them.
It would increase the overall use of parks, provide a service to nearly 1/2 of Kansas Citians, improve neighborhood safety by having more people out and about and increase safety through better exercised and socialized dogs. And should be able to be done with minimal cost from taxpayers. It's a complete win for everyone. Let's make it happen.