The Children’s Fairyland Board of Directors voted unanimously last week to not support a dog park at the former police stables. They voiced several concerns, their overriding one being the well-being of children afraid of dogs. And really, who could blame them for being overly cautious when their raison d’être is to provide a safe place for all children, even those who might be afraid of dogs?
Beyond that, many of the arguments against supporting a dog park were ones we’ve heard over and over in trying to site the Lakeview Dog Play Area: there will be more noise, people won’t pick up after their dogs, it won’t be clean, it will smell, there’s no formal maintenance from the city, etc., etc., etc.
As I listened to the mostly negative comments and potential fears expressed by the Board, it got me wondering why we as a society so often react with negativity and fear to change? Instead of looking for opportunity and possibility, why do we tend to look for misfortune? I’m no psychologist or sociologist, so I don’t have an easy answer to the question.
Politically, however, I can see clearly that fear can be a great galvanizing force in getting people to support your agenda. Our neighbors against the dog park at Lakeshore and MacArthur have done a pretty good job of stirring up a lot fear with worst case scenarios. I’m not going to enumerate them here. Poke around on their website if you’re up for a downer.
So… How about a best case scenario for a change when thinking about the Lakeview Dog Play Area? In a city where no dogs are allowed on leash in any city park, in a 155 acre area off-limits to an untold number of dog owners, what if we sacrificed half an acre sited away from the wildlife sanctuary for dogs and their owners to legally play off-leash?
The neighborhood gets a new gathering spot where people spend some time with other like-minded people. Over time friendships develop and people come out to catch up with their friends while the dogs play. Dog owners with kids bring the kids and get a two-for-one – kids and dogs tire themselves out in a single outing. Families thinking about getting a dog get to see a variety in action and get to ask questions. Kids afraid of dogs get to watch safely from behind the fence and over time get more comfortable with dogs. Those who love dogs are frequently distracted from the goings on in the tot lot by the goings on in the dog play area. A few get dragged away in tears, not ready to leave their furry friends.
The community embraces the park. It’s so easy to walk to—no more driving to Alameda(!) and it’s situated in a spot that’s clean and attractive. It’s not stuck under a freeway or in a blighted area that feels unsafe if there’s no one around. Most people pick up after their dogs. They don’t want to get a bad reputation with the other users. Volunteers routinely clean up after the few neglectful owners and perform other routine maintenance. Why? Because it’s their park and they take pride in it.
A little café on the other side of the dog park sees an upturn in business from the increased foot traffic in the area. A business developer thinks that empty lot where the gas station used to be might be a great place for a café or restaurant with outdoor seating. There are passersby every day of the week, not just Saturdays during the Farmer’s Market.
Lakeview Dog Park becomes a model for future Oakland dog parks, attractive, easy to walk to, in locations people want to visit. The days of dog parks as an afterthought, tucked out of sight and out of mind are over. Public perception of Oakland as the unfriendliest city in the Bay Area for dogs starts to change. Property values nudge upwards because amenities like dog parks are a drawing point for new buyers. Oakland’s walkability score increases.
All this from a dog park? Who knows? It’s not impossible. But, we’ll never get a chance to find out if their campaign of fear succeeds.