Thursday, April 26, 2007

Ward Park Meeting

The Ward Park meeting got my heart rate up, but most of what happened was predictable.

Basically, the city has identified Ward Park as a viable off leash location because of the large unused (unmowed) area and the presence of some street parking. This meeting was meant to test the waters and find out what kind of support and opposition exists as well as the kinds of things that supporters would like to see happen there.

There were probably around 20 people at the meeting, maybe half indicated that they live within walking distance to the park. That's about half the number that showed up for the Swift Run meeting last June, but not a bad turn out altogether.

The response was generally positive. A large number of people were very vocal about their desire to see an off-leash area happen and their hopes for what it would entail. A smaller number of people voiced concerns about the park and a few outright opposition. This latter group was almost completely made up of people living right next to the park who were concerned about the park causing an increase in everything from traffic to child abductions.

The woman who led the meeting, Amy Kuras, did an admirable job of keeping the discussion focused and civil. Her job wasn't easy and I wouldn't have wanted it; she took a considerable amount of criticism from both proponents and opponents.

The major points of opposition focused on bad acts already being committed by dogs and irresponsible owners. Representatives of the condo community to the south of the proposed site said that they already have a major problem with off-leash dogs in their neighborhood and people not picking up after their dogs. They also worry that the park will be too popular and create a parking problem, a concern I shared in an earlier post.

A few people also worried that this would harm children in one way or another. The first person to speak on this issue said that having a number of adults with dogs near children (there is a playset on a separate area of the proposed property) could lead to children being hurt, presumably by either dog bites or adults doing things to harm the kids. Some concerns were raised about kids being evicted from this area, although it is currently unmowed and appears to be used very little if at all by children or anybody else.

At least one person was honest that she simply doesn't like dogs and doesn't want them in her neighborhood. She and another person who also isn't a dog person agreed that there should be a place somewhere in the city for people to play with their dogs, but for her it's Not In My Back Yard.

I find it ironic that most of the verbiage spoken in opposition to the plan directly addressed the reasons that a dog park is badly needed. The neighbors all agreed that there are a large number of dogs in the area already, some of which are not responsible and therefore causing problems. I'm not sure if they think that those dogs are coming in from Detroit, but odds are that those dogs are local. That means that there is a high density of dogs in this area already finding their own solutions to needs for play and potty.

Even with a dog park in the neighborhood there will always be some irresponsible folks who play off leash wherever they see fit or don't pick up after their dogs along the sidewalks, but a huge number of the people currently offending would surely opt for the safer and more-legal option of playing and pooping in the off-leash area. It seems like this gets said over and over, but providing a defined space for dogs relieves the pressure and draws most of that unwanted activity to within a fence. There the only people subject to loose canines and loose poo are people with dogs who have consciously chosen that risk.

There was also a considerable line of argument from the position of assuming that dog parks are for dogs and not people with dogs. I have to believe that the opponents have never been to a formal dog park, because they seem to believe that they are full of unsupervised wild animals fighting to the death. Again worth repeating, dog parks are places where people with dogs go to recreate and socialize. Most dog people are mature, civil adults who cause no more problems than people who go to parks to play basketball or tennis, to picnic, or to ice skate. I'm not sure why the idea of a dog park elicits visions of a canine Thunderdome among so many people, but it sure does.

The end result was also predictable - we need more meetings before we can decide whether to consider possibly going forward with a recommendation to consider planning a discussion about conditions under which a plan can be drawn up for proposal. Yes indeed, the wait goes on indefinitely. We were promised that another meeting will be planned in the near future to discuss more details about what might happen. The only thing that I think was definitely decided tonight is that if a dog park happens here, it must be fenced.

The struggle continues.


Who Will Be Eaten First said...

Thanks for going to meeting and apologies again that I couldn't go.

A couple of thoughts:

It never even occurred to me that anyone was talking about the potential Ward Park dog park being unfenced. I agree completely that fenced should really be the only option. Everyone will be happier. The dogs will be contained so that the dog owners don't have to worry about them running away and non-dog owners don't have to worry about huge packs of vampiric poodles ransacking their homes and stealing small children.

But seriously, child abductions? That's... bizarre.

The doggie Thunderdome things cracks me up. The "dog parks are for people with dogs" insight really is key, isn't it? Perhaps people have never actually seen healthy, socialized, balanced dogs? The park is going to be full of enraged pit bulls wearing studded collars.

Some numbers:

- 36.1% of households in the US owned dogs
- Dog-owning households in the US own an average of 1.6 dogs
- Ann Arbor has 45,693 households
- 23,392 dogs owned by 16,495 households

Those numbers are based on national dog-ownership statistics. I'd guess that the higher proportion of transient households in Ann Arbor (otherwise known as "students") probably means fewer dogs. However, it still seems like there are probably some 20,000 dogs here. Additionally, there are people with dogs who live near the city but not in the city and who still use city facilities (me, for example).


pughd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
arbordog said...

Wow, thanks for those numbers. It puts things in a certain perspective.

I wonder too if the student population isn't balanced by the high number of DINKs (Dual Income No Kids) and other folks in Ann Arbor who may be more prone to have dogs and also to treat their dogs as family members rather than tools (hunting or guarding) or livestock.

Also to be clear, the child abduction thing wasn't put in such explicit terms. I believe the wording was something like 'I worry that this will attract a lot of strange adults into an area where children are playing. And I'm afraid that that could lead, you know, to problems.' Maybe the worry is something different, but it sounds to me like the fear is that dog people will be drawn to do something unsavory with the kids.