The Latent Potential of Dog Parks
Lola Valeiras, 2022
When visiting Europe, one of the most startling and joyful things is its use of public space. The beer gardens are parks (and vice versa); ice cream stands line stretches of grass situated next to offices and museums, attracting tourists and locals to lay for thirty minutes between appointments. My cousin was married in Prague at Letná Park, where there's a beer garden overlooking the Old Town. Czech folks enjoying a beer watched the ceremony and danced with us after.
In The United States, a few cities have done well at city planning to build centralized parks that feel accessible to relax and intermingle: San Francisco, Atlanta, and Chicago come to mind. There are probably others. During my time in LA, it didn't feel this way, but that may be a symptom of it being such a spread out, car dependent city. Parking is always an issue, as is drinking when the only way to get around is by car.
This is a larger issue than the solution I'm going to propose...but it's an iterative plan.
There are thousands of parks with latent potential—they are all throughout this country, many of which attract hundreds of visitors a day, for an hour or more each visit. The visitors sit around, talk a bit with one another, and move on with their day. They're lovely parks where dogs roam free and, in certain ways, the humans are tethered—most have just a few uncomfortable benches, dusty concrete tables, and no amenities but a water fountain and a neighboring public bathroom (usually located outside the dog park area).
For a country so incredible at commercializing just about everything, we've left a huge void. To depict a bit of the potential, I'll sketch a few quick potential users:
Jacob, single, with a young energetic pup is a remote worker who has to go off-the-clock for around 1.5 hours each day to take his dog to the dog park. While there, he can't get any work done.
Savannah loves to mingle with friends at happy hour. She'd like to bring her dog Pluto, but Pluto has too much energy to sit still, so she has to take him for a long walk before, adding a lot of stress to her day.
George and his wife—who are getting older in age—go to the dog park every weekend morning, but the trip has become a chore. They stop for coffee, arrive at the dog park and have to carry everything in, then stand around making small talk with others for 30 minutes while they try to encourage their dog to play.
The crux of the solution is that people are already at the dog park with nothing to do, and nowhere to go, for as long as their dog is playing. Voluntary leisure is one thing, but it's surprising when so many parks lack infrastructure for productivity and socialization in the first place.
Imagine instead, when you walk into a dog park, you pay a small fee or monthly subscription and find the following:
A well-stocked, fairly priced local coffee stand (which also sells dog toys and treats)
A rotating food trucks with simple, small bites
A section of clean tables with free WiFi, allowing the park to serve as a coworking space
After 3pm, a beer cart serving drafts (depending on the area of town)
Clear lighting for evening
A couple staff "referees" watching over dogs so that you can enjoy your work and let your dog play around
Occasional projected movie nights or other events
This is just a scattershot of ideas. And it's not like nothing similar exists. There are private dog parks out there, but they're expensive, have a reputation for being exclusive, and are few and far between.
Personally, I'd love to see a bit of capitalist competition in the dog park world. They don't require a ton of capital to set-up, they could support neighboring small businesses, and give people a place to lounge, work, and socialize while their pups play. With a subscription model too, a network (WeWork style) could make traveling with furry friends way easier—you'll have a dog-friendly coworking spot, cafe, and bar everywhere you go!
I'll do a follow-up on this in the coming weeks to dig into the concept a bit further.