“You’ll never solve it,” a longtime resident said. She was talking about the Roosevelt Island dog problem, and she was right. Coupling RIOC’s anti-dog policies with its chronic inability at solving problems, the issues fermented for years. Yet, there is a simple solution that saves money while meeting multiple demands. It’s no surprise that RIOC’s deep thinkers never figured it out. It makes too much sense and doesn’t cost taxpayers enough money.
by David Stone
Roots of the dog problem…
A core of long-term residents living in the original WIRE buildings has always resented newcomers. It’s part of the community fabric. It’s also irrational.
I first saw it after becoming an early resident of Manhattan Park. The pioneers dubbed the complex “Snobs Knob,” rejecting all of us as so-called snobs. Why? Because they didn’t want market-rate rentals in their neighborhood.
And there was another thing.
According to a Residents Association leader, they also did not like the park buffering the buildings from Main Street. Manhattan Park should conform to the brutalist designs in the Canyon, defying open space, rejecting the river.
But then, Southtown and The Octagon negotiated approval for dog ownership in their ground leases, and the venom swelled. All the WIRE building leases as well as Manhattan Park’s rejected dog ownership.
Now, the community’s visceral dislike for newcomers turned coalesced around dogs.
The benefits of dogs for Roosevelt Island
The good things about dogs in any community are now well-documented. They relieve stress, promote social interaction and are great for kids. Dogs are good for Roosevelt Island too, but residents who felt betrayed fought back.
The result was a cobbled-together RIOC dog policy that makes the island look foolish. It’s also dangerous and outrageously expensive…
RIOC then made things godawful by neglecting the dog runs it was persuaded to create, making dog ownership, while legal, an unjustified hazard to the canines as well as their owners.
It’s a community embarrassment unmatched elsewhere in New York, one recently worsened by extreme enforcement of rules about where dogs can go and where they can’t.
At this point, RIOC’s years of broken promises about new and improved dog runs – going back to at least 2017 – have left both sides clawing at each other where leadership should, instead, lessen tensions.
Another side of the story…
In public statements and social media posts, residents fed up with what they consider dog nuisances rather than problems made their case.
They’re especially upset over unleashed dogs running – and relieving themselves – on athletic fields. There are also contentious but unproven claims about bites and attacks.
Some are outraged over dogs “pooping all over the Island” and owners not cleaning up. But a simple walk around shows these as exaggerated, at best, likely seeded by the ingrained distrust toward “outsiders.”
The bulk of their concerns, though, is genuine. Dogs should not run free on ballfields where kids train and complete, but dog lovers insist they have nowhere else. That’s not true either, but a sensible solution is right there in front of the combatants.
The Central Park Model
Manhattan’s Central Park, the model for dog-friendly environments, does not have dog runs, and most city parks eschew them. A few, like Washington and Union Squares, oases in dense urban spaces, have well-kept runs that make Roosevelt Island’s look like something of a bad dream.
And as we showed in an earlier article, dog runs make sense only where open space is limited. That’s not the case on Roosevelt Island. Even if well-kept, which they never were, the dog runs made no sense. They were results of the legacy, a sop to malingering dog resistance.
Central Park’s model is simple. To be dog-friendly, give dogs space to be dogs. And that means abundant unleashed areas.
Central Park has restrictions. Dogs, for example, are never allowed on playing fields or in playgrounds. Other areas require leashes at all times, but these simple rules make the rest possible.
During generous hours when the park is less busy, dogs are free to roam unleashed in countless areas. Before 9:00 a.m. and after 9:00 p.m., if the park is open, so are the unleashed areas.
Dogs are free to chase frisbees and sticks and each other. Common sense rules apply, of course. Aggressive dogs are banned, and owners must clean up.
These rules are fair for everyone, dog owners and non-owners alike, and Roosevelt Island can easily follow this example.
Step One: Rip Out the Hideous Dog Runs
In moves comical, if they weren’t so threatening, RIOC dumped unidentified waste material on top of a barren surface in the Southtown dog run. It may have created even greater hazards while failing to address many others.
But first, they announced expensive plans for an all-new “temporary” dog run under the piers for the Queensboro Bridge. The area previously served as a docking station for barges delivering fuel oil to the nearby, now abandoned steam plant.
Not only is the surface uneven with patches of raw soil mixed with concrete, but it’s also inevitably saturated with pollutants based on decades of prior usage.
This stupidity must end, especially as good and proven alternatives, costing much less, are at hand.
Step Two: Identify Safe Unleashed Areas
Fortunately, Roosevelt Island abounds with possibilities.
Cornell Tech’s rolling meadows are already in play with enlightened oversight from the modern campus. But because they’re a little too remote for some dog owners, other choices should be designated.
- The meadow now surrounding the Southtown dog run.
- The fenced-in area along Main Street, opposite Riverwalk Commons, previously used by the NYPD Canine Unit for training.
- The west slope of Riverwalk Commons where it backs the subway station.
- The Rivercross Lawn, routinely misidentified by RIOC as the “Meditation Lawn.”
- The lawns south to the subway entrance between Main Street and Southtown complexes.
Others may come up with different, even better spaces, but these make a good start. As a progressive community, we ought to make good on our civic responsibilities and respect for each other.
Solving the Roosevelt Island Dog Controversy is not difficult, and it doesn’t have to cost much. It does require RIOC’s leadership to take some unpopular steps with those who currently benefit from an irrational system of dog runs.
It also requires them to listen to the silent majority that just wants peace and quiet in their own backyards.
What do you think is the best way to solve the Roosevelt Island Dog problem? Let us know in the comments below.
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