Today’s post is by Sean Sweat who’s posted on Blooming Rock before making a case for a dog park in downtown at the former location of the Ramada Inn.  After a disappointing result from a City of Phoenix public hearing approving a vast asphalt parking lot there instead, Sean has come up with an exciting new idea for a dog park in Downtown.

Sean Sweat, aka @PhxDowntowner, is the Treasurer of St Croix Villas in the heart of downtown and an MIT-trained transportation professional.  His professional focus is supply chain & logistics.  His personal focus is pedestrianism, public transit, and multi-modal interactions.

Phoenix’s newly-formed Ad Hoc Dog Park Committee has an opportunity to make a major impact to downtown’s pedestrian activity, vibrancy, and quality of life – and for relatively little money.  Pedestrian activity makes our downtown more attractive to developers, businesses, and current & potential residents, while increasing the quality of life and eventual ability for more and more downtowners to go car-free, which is the real tipping point that we are gunning for.  Pedestrian traffic also provides much-needed support for today’s small businesses pioneering downtown and doing everything they can to weather the worst economic storm in 80 years.

One thing that has the ability to have a major pedestrian impact in our downtown is a dog park.  In short, this dog park – if put in the right place – while not a silver bullet, will be a building block of an economic engine for the City of Phoenix.

image source

Sound crazy?  I’m an engineer and like numbers.  So let me support my above claim and educate readers on what site has the most potential, using data and inductive logic to dismantle some misguided arguments that I’ve heard against a downtown dog park.

Myth #1 – “No one lives downtown.”
First of all, everyone seems to define downtown differently.  Luckily we can avoid defining the downtown population, and thus avoid the pitfall of defining the downtown boundaries, by instead simply analyzing the number of people living within walking distance of the best potential dog park site available: 775 N. 1st St., which is a one-acre, City-owned, underutilized ASU parking lot between Matt’s Big Breakfast & Sens/PastaBar (presented in green on the map below).  For simplicity, let’s call it our “#DTdogpark” for the rest of this post.

The fact is that most people don’t seem to comprehend just how much denser good urban developments are compared to single family housing.  Example: I’ve said before that we need to make sure that the park serves the residents south of Roosevelt.  In response, I sometimes receive hurt looks and am told that “There are LOTS of people living north of Hance Park that want to be able to walk to a dog park, too.”  The problem is these people don’t realize just how many people actually live downtown.  Let me make the point visually:

Hopefully the contrast in that map indicates to you why it’s so easy for non-downtowners to not notice the downtown residents: urban housing doesn’t use obvious swaths of land the way detached homes do.  In fact, that small urban housing block pointed out above is only half of the Alta Lofts building.  They actually have 330 total residences.  Once we map out all of the residences within walking distance of our #DTdogpark, as you’ll see soon, we find over 2000 residences.
(Note that I’m not including the 1200 ASU students living in the dorms!)

But what does 2000 really mean?
If we were to completely fill up that same “walking distance” with nothing but detached homes, how many residences would we have?

The answer is only 1320:

The conclusion we can draw from this, is that despite the widely believed myth that no one lives downtown, centralizing the dog park in our downtown core will serve MORE residences than you could serve almost anywhere else in Phoenix!  In addition, due to the opportunities for development in our downtown – which has the most development potential in all of Phoenix due to the centralized location, light rail access, vacant land, and urban zoning ordinances – this is also the best location for a dog park in terms of catalyzing future growth.  In summary, it’s the best dog park location when you consider both where people live today, and where people will live tomorrow.

Myth #2 – “People in apartments/condos don’t own as many dogs as people with yards.”
The national average holds that 40% of households own a dog.  This is more than supported by another data point that says that there is 1 dog for every 2 people in Phoenix.

So I called as many leasing offices downtown as I could to ask them what percentage of their residents had dogs.  Whenever I got more tangible answers than: “Huh? I got no idea”, the responses were akin to “50%”, “60%”, even “80%”!  (That last one seems high to me, though a resident living there did tell me once that people in that building without dogs feel like outsiders.)  To be very conservative, however, I still just assume the national average of 40%, which when applied to 2000 residences indicates that we have over 800 dog owners within walking distance of our #DTdogpark!

Myth #3 – “We can’t afford something like this.”
I have been told by very knowledgeable people that the construction costs are the easy part, and that the maintenance costs are the harder problem.  So let me solve the harder problem:

The City of Scottsdale operates a 4-acre dog park on Chaparral and spends about $80,000/yr maintaining it.  In comparison, our #DTdogpark will only be one acre.  Adjusting the normalized cost up a little bit for some loss of economies-of-scale, we can reasonably assume that our #DTdogpark will cost ~$25,000/yr to maintain.  So that’s our target.  The following are three ways that we can cover this cost.  (The best solution will likely use two of them.)

Community Volunteers
Evans Churchill, Roosevelt, Garfield, and Midtown Museum are the four most proximal neighborhood associations.  The Orpheum Lofts and Monroe 44 HOAs don’t fall within any neighborhood associations, so we can approach them separately.  The goal here is to use community volunteers to lock/unlock the park each day, do a daily walk-around for damage, and refill the waste bag dispensers – saving a significant amount on labor costs.

Our #DTdogpark is a premiere advertising opportunity for the many businesses in the immediate area or which are dog-oriented.  Collecting $25,000/yr in sponsorships in exchange for advertising space is an easy sell.  Trust me; with virtually no effort, I already have $2,700 on deck.

image source

25¢ Entrance Fees
No one considers a quarter to be unfair and it could cover the upkeep costs.  (Entrance fees are not uncommon for dog parks.)  It also dissuades transients from squatting in the park.  But I didn’t pick 25¢ arbitrarily – I calculated how many trips we should expect to our #DTdogpark, and then calculated how much the fee would have to be for that volume of trips to cover the cost of upkeep.  The result is a mere 25¢: I calculate over 100k trips to our #DTdogpark each year.  For comparison, Scottsdale’s 4-acre dog park gets ~350k visits/yr, so my result seems very reasonable.  Here are my assumptions and calculations if you want to double-check me:

Myth #4 – “A full acre is too much land.”
This would actually be the smallest dog park in Phoenix (though Tempe has some that are much smaller).  Also, based on all the numbers I’ve shown you above, our one-acre #DTdogpark would have a slightly higher physical use rate (paws/sqft/day) than Scottsdale’s.  If we make it smaller, it would be impossible to maintain because the paws/sqft/day would skyrocket.  An acre also allows us to create a split park – one area for large dogs, and one for small dogs.  (Tangent: Dog parks can also be split into active/passive areas, which many people I talk to seem to prefer over the large/small option.)

Myth #5 – “Hance is a better location.”
I’m going to list a number of reasons why the #DTdogpark site is a better location than Hance Park, and you just pick whichever one(s) resonate with you:

•    The #DTdogpark will serve more residents than Hance.
•    The #DTdogpark will better serve people in condos/apts that don’t have yards; Hance will better serve people in detached homes that do have yards.
•    The #DTdogpark will be visible and easy to access; Hance is practically invisible and very difficult for pedestrians to access.
•    The #DTdogpark will replace asphalt with grass, reducing the Urban Heat Island effect and pollution; Hance won’t.
•    The #DTdogpark will attract pedestrian users after dark; Hance won’t.
•    The #DTdogpark will put much-needed after-work life on our downtown streets; Hance won’t.
•    The #DTdogpark will bolster small businesses; Hance won’t.

Those last three points deserve more explanation, because they are VERY significant and haven’t been covered yet.  People complain about downtown feeling dead after 5pm.  Streets without pedestrians feel uninteresting and unsafe, especially after dark.  This is especially true for ASU students, which is a demographic that we need to be coaxing out into our city rather than making them feel like they have to hide in their dorms at night.  Therefore, any opportunity to create traffic along particular pedestrian corridors should be exploited.  The 200 daily pedestrian trips that I calculated above (reverse engineer that table above a little bit) are pedestrian trips that will be channeled down very visible and meaningful corridors; meaningful because dozens of small businesses lie along those corridors.

Use the following three maps to see the number of urban residences (blue) served by different site locations (green), the pedestrian corridors each location will strengthen (yellow), and the small businesses that benefit from those pedestrian corridors being stronger (red).
Note that multiple small businesses might be contained within any single red box.

Map 1

Map 2

Map 3

What you can’t really see from those maps, is just how many small businesses will gain from each site location.  The answer is:
•    4 would benefit from a West Hance location (Map 1)
•    11 would benefit from an East Hance location (Map 2)
•    43 would benefit from our #DTdogpark location (Map 3)

It’s obvious from those maps which site creates more pedestrian activity on the streets, and which site also serves as an economic engine: clearly the #DTdogpark site in Map 3.  Now also ask yourself, “Which of those three sites would excite potential developers more?”

Myth #6 – “What about the parking for ASU students?”
The newly rubber-stamped-despite-massive-community-outcry 90,000 sqft asphalt parking lot for the Sheraton Hotel just south of ASU’s Taylor Place dorms will be used, but not all 232 of the planned parking spaces.  The City owns the Sheraton’s parking lot, so the City has the power to commit the northern-most 20 parking spaces of that lot for ASU student parking.  Problem solved.

image source

The best location for Phoenix’s next dog park is at the #DTdogpark location.  That location serves the most people, provides the most environmental and health benefits, best strengthens small businesses (which the City should read as “increased tax dollars”), and creates something meaningful and visible that both developers and visitors will notice.  Hopefully you followed my ideas and logic in the sections above and realize that, if we are able to succeed in getting this urban dog park built on that asphalt lot, our downtown will be significantly healthier and improved, on many levels.

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10 Responses

  1. matt says:

    Although I am one of the people in a historic neighborhood north of downtown, I would love a dog park downtown. For downtown to prosper, we need more residents. To get more residents, we need more of the basic lifestyle infrastructure that residents want/demand/need. However, at this time, it may be a good strategy to get a dog park at Hance, and then work on downtown later.

    In a time of budget shortfalls, getting a dog park anywhere is a victory. You need to convince the City (and its constituents) that a dog park is a wise expenditure of limited funds. In that regard, you already have a very large and under-utilized park in Hance. That means no acquisition costs for land, which may be required downtown. Hance already has landscape. Even if the City used one of its empty lots downtown, it still has to put in grass, sprinklers, etc. That already exists at Hance, which further cuts costs. Hance also has parking lots. I know that anything in the core is technically exempt from most parking requirements. However, in my experience, the City (at all levels) still looks at parking. Again, another amenity Hance already has paid for.

    Using Hance helps ensure a dog park goes somewhere because it appeals to the current City desire to revamp the park. The City has a stated desire to make Hance something other than where homeless people sleep. A skate park is in the works there, and the City has stated it wants to make Hance a true center-city gem. A dog park meets a pre-existing goal of the City, which is a boon when you are operating in a time when the City is looking to cut spending.

    I’ve stated this before, but using Hance appeals to all the neighborhoods north of downtown. I understand and appreciate your arguments about density. You are still missing something critical when it comes to dealing with City politics—who are the voters to be served and who has the money. Unfortunately, the reality is that the voices of established, affluent homeowners are generally heard over those of less affluent people in transient housing like apartments or dorms. Those people are statistically less likely to vote and contribute to campaigns.

    This shouldn’t be looked at as downtown residents vs. residents around downtown. In reality, most residents of Phoenix and the rest of the valley consider Willo, Roosevelt, FQ Story, etc. to be downtown. A proposal to put a dog park in Hance will be fought by people living way up north by Anthem. They don’t believe people live in “downtown” as they see it, which is everything south of Camelback.

    If a dog park in Hance serves true downtown and the historic neighborhoods, then it has the best chance at future success (as measured by use). Then, in a few years, it is easy to go back to the City and ask for a dog park in true downtown because look how busy Hance has been.

  2. Thomas says:

    This analysis is certainly full of important details that we’ll be discussing in committee. What we still need to learn is what monetary support is provided, what political support is present, how will the final decision be made, and how will we engage the interested dog owners to be vocal about their needs and desires.

    Something that will probably be clarified will be what geographic area this dog park is supposed to serve. At the Board of Adjustment hearing, I heard it is supposed to serve south of Thomas Rd, between 1-17 on west, Salt River at south, and 1-10/SR51 to the east. This is an extremely large area to cover in one dog park, so we’ll have to see what direction we are allowed to take this. One thing is for certain: we have to fight for the best option with other options to fall back on, if we think we have a chance to do something right.

  3. Shari says:

    We live in Story neighborhood and drive up to 21av for our dog park adventures; we would love to have a dog park nearby.
    I am impressed with your work on this and I do believe this would be a great asset to our downtown.

  4. Justin says:

    I do think Downtown could benefit from having a collection of smaller, satellite dog parks weaved throughout the vicinity, and not just have one centralized hub facility in, say, Hance Park, as alluded. With that said however, I sincerely do not don’t think that this recently leveled plot of land is the most efficient use of its inherent, eventual potential. There are countless, much less desirable plots of land, in more forgotten areas of Downtown not that far away, that could be a more logical address for what is essentially a limited-access pocket park. For the many empty lots located just a few blocks farther to the north, west, or to the east, I’d say construction of an urban, niche element like a dog park would be a great idea to consider.

    The Ramada Inn will not return despite how deeply we eulogize it. And though I equally and wholeheartedly loathe having yet another surface parking lot to deal with, in the interim I don’t think we should in any way thwart or delay this particular address from eventual, more substantial development any longer than need be. This particular plot of land, a hole in ASU Downtown’s fattening donut, can be considered prime real estate by even non-Downtown standards. That is a positive thing to consider, as it bodes well for quick turnover from eyesore surface lot to something new and more substantial, like additional academic space for the university, apartments, etc.

    Cherry-picking a dog park to be placed on a parcel of this newly vacant block just seems misplaced. I would love to see this level of enthusiasm and commitment be directed or channeled to more wide-ranging urban issues. Instead of dragging knuckles for this precise location, how about a Downtown-wide development statute to construct more dog or urban pocket parks per so much space/residents? How about improved streetscaping along our most traveled corridors? How about a devoted facelift to Hance Park (a great, undervalued Downtown, urban asset)? More legitimate shading, everywhere, with natural vegetation? How about pushing force to finally get rid of the ridiculously harmful reversible lanes on the 7s? In my eyes, the list could continue for chapters before any idea of building a dog park on 2nd and Taylor Streets surfaces.

  5. Sean Sweat says:

    Justin, you should re-read the blog b/c that’s not the location it’s talking about.

  6. Matthew says:

    This post is very well done. I think it is important that the dog park be located in the downtown core, somewhere between Roosevelt, Fillmore, 7th St, and 7th Ave. As you’ve described, Hance Park is totally different market.

    I support the location you’ve identified but I personally would favor a site on one of the dirt lots in Evans Churchill, despite the City’s objections to any uses besides land banking.

    As a downtown resident, I compliment your efforts to improve the livability of downtown Phoenix. Thanks.

  7. April Murphy says:

    Wow, so having a dog park in downtown Phoenix would increase pedestrianism, help local businesses, and save me from driving 5 miles? I’d be more than happy to spend a quarter for that! Bring on the downtown dog park.

  8. Evan Ward says:

    This is great. Coming from a former downtown resident/dog owner/urban designer, it is very much needed. The location for #DTdogpark couldn’t be better. Too bad dogs are not allowed on the Light Rail…that would make for an even stronger argument in favor of this location. What do we have to do to get this done…have there been talks with city officials/land owners/business owners about implementing this?

  9. Martin Vogel says:

    Great idea. I would happily drive over with my deaf Dalmatian, that needs an enclosed space for off-leash activity. We go to the public market on Wednesday eves or Saturday mornings and like visiting the Civic Space Park.

    Here are some ideas on starting and maintaining a dog park from http://dogplay.com/Activities/dogpark.html

    “How Do I Start A Dog Park?
    Dog Owner Group Needed
    You will need a committed dog owner group. They will need to spend time and energy educating dog owners and even cleaning up after the ignorant, clueless and careless. In our local dog park the regulars will politely point out to someone that the “missed” their dog’s poop. Actually with all the activity half the time it is true. So most of us make it a policy to pick up whatever we see on the theory that we probably missed our own dogs at least once, and besides if we don’t we will suffer loss of the privilege.

    Most user groups have special event days devoted to sprucing up the park and generating a community spirit among the users.

    Promote Recreational Benefits for Humans
    In general you will get more support if you focus on the recreational aspects for humans, rather than dogs. Describe things such as:
    show how it is a wonderful opportunity for people who share an interest to socialize while engaged in their favorite activity,
    how much pleasure it gives people to watch their dogs at play,
    how it contributes to their physical fitness programs to be able to exercise with their dogs,
    how it improves their mental state. Anyway, I can’t tell you how impatient some taxpayers will get at the idea of spending tax money on dogs but spending taxes on people is another matter.

    Note that it is common to plan areas that are exclusively for the use of people engaged in a particular sport: tennis, basketball, baseball, football . . . all these activities tend by their nature to exclude persons not involved in the activity. The thing is they all provide exercise and social activity desired by the participants. People enjoy watching their dogs at play, they are more motivated to exercise when they can take their dogs, they like recreating with other dog owners . . . think up more.

    Good park planning can allow apparently incompatible activities to occur near each other, without interference.”

  10. […] Dog Park? Posted on December 28, 2010 by PhxDowntowner This entry was originally posted at Blooming Rock on Dec 1, 2010: […]

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