CBA has had the opportunity to work on the design of several dog parks in the last year, and Preston Holleman from our office has been the project manager for both the Mystic Overlook Dog Park in Chelsea and the Bellingham Dog Park. While the parks' contexts are very different (urban and densely populated versus suburban and bordering conservation land), a standout function of each space will be as a point of gathering for local residents. During the research phase of these projects, Preston visited existing dog parks in Somerville, Chelmsford, Cambridge, and Poulsbo, WA to talk to users of the the spaces to collect data about their use of the park and analyze the success of fencing, surface, and edging materials.
During these conversations, Preston noted that dog ownership and care are based on routine. The same group of community members will consistently use a dog park at similar times, and continued interactions with the same people provides opportunities for relationships to evolve. Similar to other municipal parks, dog parks will often develop a formal community group that monitors and contributes additional effort to care for the dog park. For example, Preston learned that in some dog parks, owners leave toys and water bowls at the site for other dogs to play with and share.
The continuous need for a dog to exercise and socialize draws out group members more often and consistently than a park that is used for passive recreation. In some cases, dog park community groups may even be more active than those formed around traditional parks. Dog park advocacy is particularly strong in dense urban areas where open space is at a premium - CBA frequently interacts with dog owners during the public input process for many of our traditional park projects.
Studies have shown that the more a resident knows their neighbors, the more invested they are in their community. Neighborhoods with a strong social fabric see reductions in crime, vandalism, and neglect as well as increases in happiness, social activism, community involvement and quality of life. Recurring interactions such as those that happen at neighborhood dog parks strengthens local social networks. Preston's conversations with community members at each park had a common theme: people get know their neighbors that have dogs.
How do we tighten the mesh of a neighborhood's social fabric? The design of dog parks is a small part of local networks that can have an enormous impact. Seating areas in these parks facilitate human interaction. Obstacles for agility training and games for dogs provide the opportunity for dog owners to converse and learn from each other. In recognizing the social benefits of dog parks, we as designers have an opportunity to create environments that foster and facilitate the development of human connections.