Dogs Make Our Neighborhoods Better

The most valuable trait that a neighborhood can have is people. This statement may sound obvious, but to paraphrase Jane Jacobs; people are drawn to other people. Our culture, unfortunately, has mostly forgotten or shunned this universal truth. This is the reason that Washington Avenue will still carry 6 lanes of traffic after an $8 million makeover. This is why even just three good urban blocks will become a regional destination (Uptown, Northeast, Grand Avenue, Linden Hills, Nicollet Mall, 50th and France, Cathedral Hill, Dinkytown). We struggle as a culture to build, cultivate, and disseminate vibrant environments. Much of this shortcoming is due to the fact that America has a very short collective memory. Luckily, dogs have even shorter memories.

The writer's dog being uncharacteristically well-behaved outside Sebastian Joe's

The writer’s dog being uncharacteristically well-behaved outside Sebastian Joe’s

Dogs live for the moment, and they implore their people to do the same. Gracen Johnson, the creator of the Another Place For Me video series has done a marvelous short piece explaining exactly why dogs can enliven or even revitalize urban neighborhoods. The simplest and most important point that she makes is that dogs need to go on walks – especially if their owners don’t have a yard. If you own a dog, it is almost certain that you will be out and about at least twice a day. Chances are good that you will run in to the same people and the same dogs whom are also out and about twice every day. Even if your daily exchange is as simple as a smile and a quick hello, you are building your own sense of community. The presence of this joviality, as small as it may be, is discernible. Not only are dog owners’ experience of their neighborhood made a little better by additional human contact, passersby notice it too.

There are measures that apartment buildings, business owners, neighborhood associations, and even individual home owners can take to harness in the benefits of dog-friendliness. Something as simple as setting out a water bowl can signal to a dog-walker that they are welcome here. A repeat visit will increase foot traffic, which will increase eyes on the street, which is a boon to business or a benefit to home value. Walkable neighborhoods command higher property values than car-centric neighborhoods and are healthier on average (although health causation is debatable). The act of welcoming dogs and their owners in to a neighborhood can help to activate the process of increasing walkability.

The next step for a dog-friendly neighborhood might be a coordinated effort to make errands possible with dog in tow. I accept that there are limitations, especially when it comes to health code, but being able to add some productivity to daily walks would be an immense benefit to urban neighborhoods. I have no illusions of walking my dog down the aisles at Kowalski’s, but I will admit that CB2’s dog-friendliness has enticed me to spend more on furniture than I otherwise would have. By stopping in during walks I am more likely to grow fond of the store and come back later to buy.

Dog Bar

The Dog Bar at Lucia’s Restaurant
Photo Credit: Gianna Lucci

The ability to bring your dog along is just one more much needed nudge toward shopping locally. A small publicity campaign to advertise that a majority of establishments in a given retail corridor are dog-friendly could be immensely helpful in bringing vitality to the street. Most business owners with a storefront don’t need anyone to explain to them that vibrancy means money. Most homeowners would rather see people out walking around than to live on a deserted street (although a small but vocal minority of homeowners will fight any attempt to make their neighborhoods more lively, amiright Bill?)

My own neighborhood of Lyn-Lake and nearby Uptown are both relatively dog friendly and I take advantage of that fact. It’s interesting to parse which stores I feel comfortable to wander in to and which I will stay out of with my dog. I always look for some sort of indication that the business is dog friendly and use common sense. If a high number of stores in a given area display a sign indicating dog friendliness I am more likely to feel empowered to wander in to nearby stores as well. The retail stretch of Hennepin between Lake and 31st is very good for shopping with a dog, and I have made several unplanned purchases while wandering or taking respite from the weather. These businesses benefit from a perceived sense of dog-friendliness.

There is a familiar refrain to be made about cities, well-being, vibrancy, and the resulting human happiness. The bottom line is that good cities are the product of a chain reaction. They can not be faked or decreed. It is a process of growth and renewal that builds and improves upon preceding successes. There are very few positive interjections that can be made at absolutely any point during this process (but there are many possible disastrous interventions). Since they are so rare, I get very excited when I come across a beneficial action that communities can take without prohibitive costs or prerequisites. Dog-friendliness is one of these actions. Regardless of any other external conditions, dog owners need to take their dogs outside at least twice a day. Smart neighborhoods will greet them with open arms and handsomely displayed merchandise.

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11 Responses to Dogs Make Our Neighborhoods Better

  1. Matt March 12, 2014 at 9:05 am #

    This morning I was on my bike waiting at a red light, and a woman walking her dog was crossing the street. The dog walked up to me and he was a friendly one and I gave him a good pat on his head, told him to enjoy the morning, and exchanged a friendly smile and hello with his owner. It was a fantastic little moment, it connected me to my neighborhood and my neighbor. And it would not have happened without the dog.

    Great post.

    *I knew it was a “he” because his name was Pete.

    • Rebecca Airmet
      Rebecca Airmet March 12, 2014 at 10:02 am #

      I frequently find that people who would probably never just say hello on the street will stop to say hello to or pet my dog when I’m out with her. I know I’m guilty of the same thing sometimes.

      Make sure your dog has good “street etiquette”. A dog that strains at the leash, jumps, or barks can frighten or anger people and do more harm than good in terms of place-making.

  2. Matt Steele March 12, 2014 at 9:26 am #

    I bet I know what Matt Brillhart would have to say about dogs, sidewalks, and the city.

    But I love dogs… most of my corner businesses are dog-friendly so it’s great to meet the neighbor dogs along with the neighbor humans.

  3. I Am A Person March 12, 2014 at 10:19 am #

    Truly groundbreaking Urbanism, Streets.mn !!

    (see also: http://gawker.com/5866418/dog-parks-white-people-thrive-in-cities )

  4. Michael Roden
    Michael Roden March 12, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    I can’t argue with a snark piece from Gawker. I wonder if Perez Hilton has anything to say about urbanism… I’ll be sure to reference him if I decide to write a dissertation on dog walking.

  5. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke March 12, 2014 at 11:25 am #

    I like dogs. see also http://tcsidewalks.blogspot.com/search/label/animals

    (Also, I have no idea what you’re talking about.)

  6. MplsJaromir March 12, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    I always thought Seattle, WA was bada** because they allow your dog on public transit, also in many bars.

    I would be more likely to go further than a walk if my dogs could come on the bus with me and visit a local pub.

  7. Joe Scott
    Joe Scott March 12, 2014 at 3:47 pm #

    Dogs can certainly cut both ways for a neighborhood, as the cage full of pit bulls in my neighbor’s midtown Phillips backyard attests. If you’re already in a good neighborhood, maybe the dogs are a conversation piece, in a bad neighborhood they’re there to ward off prospective burglars and lend to an air of hostility.

  8. Nick Magrino
    Nick Magrino March 12, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

    I’m strongly pro-dog in the abstract (my neighborhood has two (2) three-legged dogs and my GOD they are adorable) but, on the other hand, the amount of dog urine and feces that pile up in higher-density parts of the city is pretty disgusting in the winter. And I usually don’t like to use the word disgusting on the Internet. King Field is one thing but in Loring Park and similar areas it gets really bad, especially right at the doors of apartment buildings and after it maybe hasn’t snowed anew for a couple weeks. Even in the summer there are some stretches of badly yellowed grass. It’s worse in front of nicer buildings.

  9. Alex March 13, 2014 at 9:31 am #

    For more on canine urbanism, check out the movie My Dog Tulip. You can literally check it out from the library. There are some great scenes about the street politics of poo, and lots of shots of Tulip peeing on an apartment balcony.

  10. Betsey Buckheit
    Betsey Buckheit March 15, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    Gracen Johnson was not the first dog out of the gate in talking about the dog-friendliness of cities. Jay Walljasper spoke to the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation maybe 5 years ago about this very subject, plus http://www.placemakers.com/2011/07/01/urban-renaissance-gone-to-the-dogs/ and “dog walkable urbanism” http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/kbenfield/a_dogs-eye_view_of_what_makes.html.

    And, other cities make small but telling efforts – Birmingham, MI’s downtown merchants often (usually?) have water dishes located outside or just inside the door of the business and sometimes treats, too. A few even have leash hooks for tying up your dog briefly.

    As the owner of two dogs who walk around Northfield daily, I find trash cans are important (to encourage poop-pick-upping), street trees form an important communication network as well as giving dogs cool places to rest while owners are dashing into a store, and intersection design needs to work for good visibility from behind a dog. Northfield has got the trash cans, some trees and needs to work on the intersections and other crossing points.

    And yes, train your dog and pick up after it.

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