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Dog Parks and Café Society
At a recent gathering of our volunteers, we were bantering about 1920s café society. Back then, community was forged in coffee shops. It wasn’t unusual for a wealthy industrialist to strike up a conversation with an unemployed poet. Nowadays, everyone at Starbucks is too engrossed in their iPhones for casual conversation. Or, too suspicious of a stranger talking to you at a café. One woman who spoke at the March 23rd meeting said she’d moved to the Lake Merritt area a year prior and hadn’t met any of her neighbors, and hadn’t made any new friends in the area.
We couldn’t help but notice the similarities between cafe society and the interaction we’ve seen at dog parks. Where else can you chat with complete strangers without feeling awkward or creepy? Mothers certainly get to socialize at children’s play areas. But what if you don’t have kids? Increasingly, people are turning to dog parks to forge a community, make friends, and socialize. Even the Catholic Church is getting in on the act.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has partnered with the Downtown Center Business Improvement District to put on Dog Day Afternoons, where people and their dogs can meet and socialize.
“The purpose of this is to create community,” explained Monsignor Kevin Kostelnik, co-sponsor of the event along with Joaquin, his black Labrador retriever. “It’s to allow residents, the humans, to get to meet one another because the animals are one part of God’s creation that brings everybody together. And I thought, you know, we’ve got a beautiful space here in downtown, and there’s a great necessity for dog parks downtown. So this was a great space I thought we could gather downtown residents and their pets.”
Hal Bastian, the director of the business improvement district said, “this is all about creating community, because downtown isn’t a place. It’s 15 different neighborhoods. And even those of us who live in a building, we never see each other ’cause we’re working and out and about.”
Dog parks are a great social equalizer: rich and poor, old and young, black and white, gay and straight. All gathering there have one obvious thing in common from the get-go, and conversation is not only easy but expected. Bonds are formed. Friendships are made.
“Dogs facilitate friendly interactions among people, as they so actively solicit play and offer greetings. Establishing a dog park creates a community center of activity where friends and neighbors gather to relax,” said Dr. Lynette Hart, director of the Center for Animals in Society at U.C. Davis.
Business improvement districts (such as the Lakeshore Business Improvement District that supports our planned park) know that having this kind of amenity in the area can only help business. You meet at the dog park (instead of driving to another town), meet your neighbors, make friends, then meet up later for cup of coffee, or grab lunch, or go to the gym. Right now, Lake Merritt dog owners are going to Alameda, and then stopping for coffee at South Shore, or some groceries at Alameda’s Trader Joes. All that money could be staying in Oakland.
The upcoming National Night Out is one night aimed at creating community, getting neighbors to know one another, getting people out of their houses, and reducing crime: all benefits you get daily from a dog park. Shouldn’t Oakland support this type of thing?