|see? plenty of room for everyone.|
When we began looking to move Chestnut Hill almost two years ago, we were attracted to many things. We loved how green it is while still being a party of the city. We loved its history and proximity to both Mt. Airy and Germantown. We loved that it is a “walkable town.” And most of all, we loved how kid-friendly it is. Yet a big part of that “green” beauty we so admired was nestled on the West Side, in Pastorius Park. This park is a gorgeous landscape of wooded areas, open areas, a pond, and even an outdoor amphitheater. A virtual treasure trove. So we hoped to find a home in close proximity to Pastorius, and as luck (and patience) would have it, we did. While we were in the months-long process of buying, I went online to ask locals about the park. The most common answer/warning I received back was that it was great for dogs and not so great for humans without them.
I found that difficult to believe. It’s such a big park with plenty of room for everyone, there are laws in Philly that all dogs be leashed in public spaces, and I hoped that I was just getting a slanted view of the situation. But since moving here, that has pretty much been our experience too. It is a big, beautiful park, but definitely one with a reputation of welcoming unleashed dogs. We really only use it to walk through on the way into town, because even with limited use, our children have been jumped on, knocked over, and threatened by unleashed dogs… their owners ever assuring me that the dog is “friendly.” Now, I like dogs. I even LOVE some dogs. I grew up with dogs. We’d have one now if I thought we were responsible enough to raise one. But honestly? I don’t care if your dog is “friendly” if he is knocking over my five year old or ripping the beloved stuffed bear from the hands of my three year old, or barking loudly and running full force at my eight year old as she screams and tries to run away (and yes, we’ve tried to teach her to stand still and be calm, but it’s tough to pull off when you’re being lunged at by a big, unfamiliar growly dog).
I know, you’re thinking I’m just against the dogs, but I’m all for the dogs. This is NOT an anti-dog story. I repeat, this is NOT an anti-dog story. I know dogs should be free to run and that cities are a tough place in which to make that a reality. That’s why there are official dog parks (with runs or off-leash allowance) in the city. Here is a start list, but feel free to add others in the comments if you know of more:
Chester Avenue Dog Park -Chester Ave and 48th
Eastern State Dog Pen -Corinthian Ave & Brown St
Orianna Hill Dog Park -North Orianna St, between Poplar and Wildey
Pretzel Park Dog Run, 4300 Silverwood St, located between Cotton, Rector and Cresson Streets – one block above Main Street.
Schuylkill River Park Dog Run -25th St between Pine and Locust
Segar Dog Park -11th Street between Lombard and South St.
Pastorius is a wonderful dog-friendly park, and I hope it always will be. The thing is, I’d also like it to be more people-friendly. I think that the dogs should be able to enjoy the park and that people and other dogs should also be able to enjoy the park without the threat of off-leash dogs. I would even support a dog run in the park so that dogs could run off-leash in a restricted area (though I know that’s an unpopular idea in many circles). But as it stands now, we have several neighbors who end up not using the park because of the off-leash dogs… some with children, some with dogs, and some who are elderly. So one of those neighbors and I thought it would be a good idea to advocate for enforcement of the leash law. This neighbor has two kids and two BIG (leashed) dogs. He suggested that we start by asking for support from the “Friends of Pastorius Park”; so we attended their board meeting last night.
The Friends of Pastorius Park is a volunteer advocacy group that works to preserve the park as it was designed to be used. Which in case you were wondering, was not as a dog park, but as a spot for human reflection. The Friends also work to fill in the gaps between what the city will fix/do and what the organization deems to be the park’s needs…. a very thoughtful and vital community service. I was pleasantly surprised by a good turnout for the meeting- I think there were twelve or thirteen people in attendance. (I wish I’d counted and paid better attention to names).
We listened to current business discussed, the consideration of fixing the steps in the amphitheater, and then moved on to new business. I thought my neighbor did a great job of framing the dog issue (again, he has kids AND dogs). We were told that the issue has been discussed many times over the years. There were arguments on both sides of the issue, of course. Several people argued that the park is perfectly usable by anyone who wants to use it and that the unleashed dogs were not an impediment to enjoying the park. Yet roughly half of the people in attendance had stories of themselves, their children or neighbors being physically struck in Pastorius by unleashed dogs. To some people, that is a significant impediment. Count me as one of them.
As I was sharing my own experience, concerns, and my hope that the Friends of Pastorius would support the leash law being enforced, I was shocked when one of the members angrily told me that I should not have moved to Chestnut Hill in the first place and that I was the problem. Not exactly what I expected to encounter in my first foray into local advocacy and issues, but I’m pretty thick-skinned. The board then voted on a motion to write a letter to the Parks and Recreation Department to request enforcement of the leash policy. Only three members voted to support it, so the motion was defeated. Shortly after, the board did vote in favor of supporting my neighbor’s other request to work to curb teenage loitering and drug & alcohol use in the park. A good move. Unless that was your son’s plan for Senior Week.
And that’s the way boards work: either majority or consensus rules; you win some and you lose some. Yes, I was surprised that the Friends of the park were not interested in curbing its reputation and use as a “dog park”; it seems contrary to their mission to me. But they do plenty of other good work, and it still leaves me back at square one, wishing the park was usable for all. I’m now hoping there are like-minded locals interested in making the park more comfortable for all of the community members. If you are so moved, or have suggestions, please contact me. And if you are horrified that I would suggest leashing your dog while in the park, apparently you are far from alone!