Friday, August 5, 2011

Downtown and Doggie Doo Doo, It Never Ends

Besides the scourge of highways on the intricate, fragile ecosystem of cities as a collection of highly interconnected neighborhood units, I feel that I've written nearly as extensively on dog shit. See: here and here. The lesson from those, as always, Virginia Postrel has no idea what she's talking about.

This morning on an otherwise uneventful dog walk, I was interrupted by a gentleman attempting to grab my attention in that familiar North Dallas dialect, by honking his horn. I typically and intentionally ignore this form of communication because I have eyes, ears, am an adult, and speak English and at least enough Spanish if that happens to be the honker's native tongue.

Honk once, honk twice, honk thrice, and again a fourth time. Okay, what the F is your problem? Of course, without the attitude I looked up to see if this person was honking at me or any of the other people on the street. How is one to know? Isn't the responsibility of directing attention on the honker?

A deeply tinted passenger front window of a black Denali slowly rolls down in that perfectly uniform automatic way, and a white collared man asks, rather politely I should add, "please don't walk your dog there."

"No problem," I replied and moved on down the road. A couple of things should be noted. First, I'm one of the good ones. First, I carry multiple baggies at all times and loathe dog owners who do not pick up their pets mess with extreme prejudice. I even degrade the environment (!1!!11!1) by asking for plastic bags at the grocery so I can always have extras in the pantry to supplement the roll-out kind purchased at pet-smart.

Second, there are no signs asking not to take dogs there and downtown dog owners use this spot hourly if not almost consecutively throughout the entire day. I've seen them. I also see the dog poop (I hope - you sometimes never know in downtown Dallas) left by negligent owners and must carefully avoid stepping in it.

Third, downtown's population is not huge, roughly 5,500 and change, or about the size of a single, mature neighborhood. Substantial enough that in a heavily concreted place as downtown, two things are assured, 1) people will have pets no matter what and 2) all areas of grass will be used for doggie relief and are valued highly as such. Supply low, demand high.

Now, given the renovation of the old post office's upper floors, I've made the assumption that this man was likely in some way involved in that process, and a great step it is for downtown. I recall the project being shelved indefinitely after the USPS/anthrax incidents nearly a decade out of fear/security. (Good thing that case was cracked, no?)

Further, given the luxury and make of the car, it was a dead giveaway for this person likely being the developer. Excursion, Denali, Yukon, etc. all the same essentially and all a cliched vehicle selection for a developer as the luxury SUV sits within that perfect nexus of construction worker, banker, and architect that defines the development profession.

My problem is not that I was inconvenienced to move down the road as I'm perfectly happy, but with the simple-mindedness of the request. Does he think nobody else will ever use that patch of grass? I'm happy to oblige in perpetuity, but between the Republic tower and the Mosaic there must be at least 500 residents within 1 block, many of whom 1) have dogs and 2) DON'T carry baggies with them nor clean up after their dog.

So there are really two choices as I see having someone like a security guard hang out on site 24/7 being wasteful and signage being fruitless. The first is to not have anybody living nearby. No people, no dog shit. But that hardly helps land value of the developer since people, such as the residents of the adjacent buildings, attract people and thereby are the value driver of your property.

It also doesn't help that you're adding residential units. Yes, those people will have dogs (if pets are allowed of course, but how many buildings like to restrict their market segment?). And yes, those people will walk their dogs to the nearest bit of grass which is immediately out their front step.

So isn't the real answer to remove the grass and useless shrubbery there? It is hardly urban. It gets beat up precisely because it is hardly urban in an urban locale. And, it is a maintenance hassle. I like and value green space for both/either dogs and people as much as the next person, perhaps moreso even, but it in urban locations particularly it has to be appropriate and focused.

Grass willy nilly because a designer didn't know what better to do some amount of square footage on site is not an answer. Even more so in urban contexts where every single square foot is highly valued and must be thought about and addressed in some meaningful way. There ought not be ANY leftover space. If its leftover then it indeed becomes an amenity for residents who see a convenient place to take their dogs. They will make it as such despite your intentions or lack thereof.

But the redesign of the streetscape would cost money, time, and headache. But not like all the hassle of trying to regulate dog owners from using the space would anyway. Like any and all urban issues there is acute conflict between ideology and reality. Save the advil and reprogram the streetscape so dog owners will have to do what they should be doing anyway, taking their dogs to the appropriate dog friendly places about town, otherwise they'll always find the nearest spot.