Sunday dog blogging

No, absent a wave of reader demand, no pictures of my dogs. This is about off-leash dog parks. The issue is apparently a really trying one for parks departments in cities, with remarkably varied results. As a dog lover, I’m happy to meet and even be leapt upon by almost any canine, but not everyone is: indeed, some people are really afraid of dogs, and many can’t read dog behavior to distinguish hostility from exuberance or curiosity. Furthermore, unrestrained dogs owned by unqualified or really bad people regularly (rarely) do attack kids and strangers. Both sides seem to go into the public debate with a chip on their shoulders and a lot of claiming of rights and bad-mouthing the opposition (I like to think all my dogs have taught me to be more like them, civil and forgiving, but who knows…).

San Francisco seems to be in a constant civil war over off-leash areas. In and near Berkeley are two large and one smaller legal off-leash dog parks, where a lot of hedonic value is created and celebrated by dogs and their people, with amazingly consistent good behavior (no fighting and assiduous scooping) by all. At least one school soccer field has also been adopted as an illegal but tolerated early-morning dog run (before the kids start showing up, the dogs all go home). My daughter in LA, however, has had a lot of trouble finding a place to let her little dog off his leash; there seem to be at least a few, but one would have to drive. Of course everyone in LA has a big back yard with a pool so the city doesn’t really need parks of any kind, uh huh.

New York City in the last decade or so has set up dog runs in its parks; the ones I’ve seen are cramped little pens with dirt or asphalt floors surrounded by cyclone fence and signs full of rules. But now it’s come up with a really admirable piece of policy design: most of the large city parks are now mostly off-leash-permitted from 9 PM to 9 AM, of course with good behavior and scooping rules. This seems like a really good win-win program. The dog owners will be around and about keeping the parks safer by just being there at night, when they’re needed, the hours allow anyone within walking distance of a park to take his dog for a real run before work so the pooch naps instead of going nuts all day in an apartment, and daytime users, especially little kids, aren’t at risk of being run over by a playful Rottweiler. Looking at the list, I think a four-block area around the parks with off-leash areas includes about a third of all the people in Manhattan; the other boroughs seem to have even more options.

Every time I go to New York, I get the sense that the city government is full of people who stay up late trying to figure out how to improve the quality of life for citizens and make them feel appreciated. According to Bob Herbert, there’s plenty of headroom left, especially in poor neighborhoods, but comparing the way city government presented itself when I was growing up in Manhattan to the way it comes across now, it’s a real cultural change in a big inertial bureaucracy.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.