Tuesday, September 14, 2010

New Dog Park in McLean Gardens, More in the Works for Petworth and Northeast

When I originally read this PoP post, I thought--hey! great! Another dog park. The one at 17th and New Hampshire is a real boon to the area, and a great gathering place that fosters a sense of community (hi, I'm Whitney. Oh that's your dog? Mine's the one who's humping him).

Then I looked up the location on Google Maps. McLean Gardens!? I certainly can't imply that the 17th street dog park is exactly low-income, but aren't there some neighborhoods that would benefit from a park more than this wealthy enclave? How about the SW waterfront, Columbia Heights or Petworth?

Initial outrage behind me, I then read the rest of the article. Oops. As PoP indicates, there are two more dog parks in the works--one in Petworth near Arkansas and 14th St NW, and one in NE between 14th and Tennessee Avenue (I struggled with what neighborhood to classify this as--East Capitol Hill, perhaps?)

A lot of folks would hold up this development as an example of Fentyism--pro-white, pro-gentrification, DC economic developments that benefit DC's wealthier set while taking money away from the true DC residents. Well, I suppose there is some merit to that attack...using taxpayer money to build a dog park DOES take dollars away from other potential government programs. But I disagree with those who say that DC isn't benefitting from these changes.

I'm extremely pleased with both the proposed locations--NE and Petworth. I think you're taking two, somewhat iffy neighborhoods and giving them a tremendous leg-up...are you moving to Navy Yard, with the stadium and little else? Or would you move to Petworth, where things may still be rough around the edges, but you've now got an organic market, a soon-to-be renovated Safeway, new apartment buildings and restaurants opening, and A DOG PARK! OK the last one may not necessarily seal the deal for anyone. But still, it's a signal of progress and economic investment in a neighborhood where some buyers are banking on the area becoming a more robust neighborhood in the next 10-20 years.

Now to the rabble rousers...I know there are people who are going to read this post and think that these dog parks are a sign of a terrible thing-GENTRIFICATION. 1) You're ruining the authenticity of the neighborhood. 2) You're bringing in more rich (read-white) people at the expense of the poorer (mostly black) residents. 3) When property values and rents go up as a result, poorer residents will be forced out of the neighborhood and into more suburban areas without public transportation. 4) The last thing this neighborhood needs is a dog park when there are so many other pressing issues facing residents.

A response to the haters.

1) Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize that boarded up houses, vacant lots, and liquor stores behind bullet-proof barriers were so authentic. Admittedly, the development in Adam's Morgan is an example of development of sucking the life out of a neighbhorhood...a walk up 18th street proves just how badly gentrification can erase a neighborhood's character. But I think DC residents are getting smarter, demanding that each neighborhood's unique culture be preserved (so, OK, rabble rouse a little bit). While certainly gentrifying, the legacy of jazz continues to have an indelible imprint on the U Street corridor. And who can deny the continued presence of hispanic culture in Columbia Heights (you know, minus Target and...bleh...Ruby Tuesdays).

2) and 3). Yep. That is completely true, and is one of the undesired effects of economic development in a neighborhood. But here's the kicker--it doesn't have to be! If these ramifications bother you, then don't deny a neighborhood some economic investment. Instead, remain (or start getting) active and involved in local politics and in your community. It is possible for economic development and social consciousness to be reconciled, but not if you don't vote--with your ballot and your wallet. You hate the Columbia Heights Target so much? Don't shop there. But everyone else will, because it was a convenient and necessary addition to the city.

4)  False. I realize that it's a rough world out there, folks. But I think that these community features help foster neighborhood pride and encourage residents to get to know eachother. Much like churches in decades past, community centers and coffee houses and, yes, dog parks are the meeting grounds for community-minded people in an age where religion is becoming increasingly less prominent in the average American's life. I'm not implying that we suddenly raze all our churches for dog parks, but I do think these features encourage an active, engaged neighborhood with many rich, varied options for its citizens.

Gee, I'm sure at the end of this post you have no doubt where I fall on the Fenty-Gray debate.

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