Dogs and Smart Growth

I normally attend civic and political meetings because of dog issues, usually on behalf of the Maryland Dog Federation.  However, I am also “just a resident” (aka, taxpayer; homeowner) of my town, county and state, and I’m interested in many issues that affect me in non-dog respects as well.  So, thinking I was “off duty” as president of the federation, on Wednesday I trundled off to a presentation by the Coalition for Smart Growth in Prince George’s County to hear all about it and perhaps allay my non-dog concerns.   

Just to provide some background about me, I hail from New York City and spent a few decades as a subway commuter who walked from a subway station to my house.  While I always owned a car, just about everything I needed (dry cleaner, shoe repair, dollar store, diner, pizza, newsstand, drug store, fresh fish, butcher, vegetable market, supermarket, pet store, our little neighborhood bistro, at least eight other food cuisines including a bagel joint– you get the picture) was never more than eight blocks away, including, if you add a half-hour train ride, Manhattan (i.e., THE WORLD).  I was rarely deterred by the time of day or night.  Nowadays, “inside-the-Beltway”, while I live about the same distance from work as I did from the NYC subway station and could walk, the thought of walking to work is just not in the realm of reality.  It’s not because I’m lazy; I think because it’s a little deserted and not very interesting stroll.  So I thought it would be great to hear how the smart growth people and the county plan to bring some walkable amenities to my quiet little pedestrian friendly hamlet of Riverdale Park.

At the Smart Growth meeting on Wednesday, I heard plans about infrastructure, parallel bike lanes, brand new Metro-centric new mixed use, mixed density housing zones remininscent of my old Queens neighborhood, Town-Center like amenities (note to developers:  please ditch the piped-in music emanating from the Town Center flower-beds.  It reminds of Twilight Zone-like pretend human-habitats created by aliens).   I heard about pedestrian safety, traffic abatement, connecting sidewalks-to-nowhere so they’re sidewalks-to-somewhere.  Walkable communities are a huge county investment in time, thought, agency resources, funding, infrastructure, and long term planning…a lot riding on it in the region for generations to come.  Buy-in by residents is critical. 

And they don’t yet have mine.

But one panelist from Cheverly said something that made me do the squeaky-toy-doggie-head-tilt and on popped my Federation cap!  Someone raised a dog ownership point, and it wasn’t me!

To my concern about crime, the gentleman from Cheverly made a point of noting that walkable communities show increased dog walking at night, which puts more people on the streets, reduces evening desolation, and helps to deter crime.

Aha moment!  Apparently, dog ownership is a critical, oft-overlooked component of smart growth.

I’ve long thought that county dog ownership, dog walking, walkable communities and improving the cohesiveness of a neighborhood are inexorably intertwined.  Apparently, the smart growth people are aware too.  Smart growth people believe in high density housing around Metro stations.  High density housing means apartment complexes and close-in town homes – which means landlords, property managers and HOAs.  In the federation’s experience, the mindset of landlords, property managers and HOAs — to have weight and breed restrictions or refuse to rent apartments to all but a few dog owners – is too onerous and must change.  You can’t get much more “high-density” than New York City, and there are plenty of dogs happily and peacefully living there.  As stated on the Maryland Dog Federation website… “dogs deter crime”.  And an additional sense of security.  A study of a recent rash of push-in robberies, sexual assaults and robberies involving women walking or jogging in the region revealed virtually none occurred while in the presence of a dog (in one case, it was a small dog).  In one unfortunate Greenbelt case, a beloved family Old English Bulldogge named Joe sacrificed his life defending his home and family from an armed intruder.  A breed, lest we forget, that the county at one time considered adding to the existing breed ban.  We must get landlords and developers to understand what even the smart growth advocates already know:  that women like me don’t feel very safe walking around without substantial , good sized dogs.  “Good sized dogs” in this context are usually not accepted under the current restrictions of many apartment complexes.  How many of these large, good pets wind up in shelters because so many apartments don’t allow them?  How many of them are killed at the shelter because of landlords?  How many assaults occur because landlords and property managers prevent us from having them?  How many assaults would have been prevented?  And how many people refuse to live in smart growth areas because their dogs are not welcome? 

Does anyone see my hand raised?

So, for the sake of smart growth, the Maryland Dog Federation looks forward to working with proponents to increase the opportunities for big dog owners to participate in the smart growth revolution.  We have a “Welcome Home” program to get landlords more comfortable with large pet owners in their properties.  There are over 227,000 dogs living in over 133,000 dog owning households in the county; many are big dog owners and don’t want it any other way.  Let’s encourage them to live in walkable communities near Metro stations. Communities will be better for it.  We’ll all be better for it.

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