FLORAL History of The 72nd Street Dog Run
History of The 72nd Street Dog Run

Since its inception in 1995, FLORAL has worked closely with Riverside Park Administrators and landscape architects on the design of what was to be the premier dog run of New York City. This combined effort represented a shift in thinking about the design potential of dog runs in general. Traditionally, dog runs were areas of denuded ground enclosed with uneven temporary fencing. These areas were neither designed with their users in mind, nor was thought given to their permanence; accordingly, they had no landscaping, no drainage or water supply, no seating or amenities such as baggie stations, inappropriate entryways without double gates, and no regularly scheduled trash removal. With the problem of off leash dogs throughout the park growing, the need for dog runs suited to the user group became more apparent. As is now recognized by park and city planners nationwide, just as playgrounds are designed with children and their activities in mind, dog runs needed to be accessible, appealing and functional lest they remain underutilized scars on the environment.

Some time after the initiation of our discussions with the Parks Department the renovation of the Riverside Park dog run at 105th Street began. Embracing this new understanding of dog run design, essential features were incorporated to insure sanitation, safety, function, and aesthetics together with concern for the environment and the protection of trees and existing landscaping. This facility soon became one of the most successful dog runs in the city and is a model for dog runs throughout the city today.

To begin our endeavor to create a new dog playground in the southern end of Riverside Park, we needed to find an appropriate location in which to fittingly situate it. The search for the perfect site had us walking through and studying the park with Charles McKinney numerous times. Some of these visits included then Councilmember Ronnie Eldridge, then State Senator Franz Leichter's representatives, Assemblymember Scott Stringer, and the Riverside Park Fund. Additional park walkthroughs included representatives from Community Board 7 and various other community groups.

For simplification we broke the approximately 15 acres between 72nd and 79th Streets into identifiable sites including the already designated, exclusive use areas, namely: 4 basketball courts, 3 baseball fields, 3 children's playgrounds, handball courts, a running track and infield, and an outdoor café. For obvious reasons the actively used ball fields and courts, playgrounds, and the café were eliminated. The rest of the areas were analyzed extensively by all involved parties.

By 1999 we had located just 2 sites that could satisfy our agreed upon criteria. These included but were not limited to minimal impact on the landscape and aesthetics of the chosen site as well as the surrounding parkland; minimal impact on other Park users; and utmost utility to the dog owners thereby maximizing its benefit to the park overall. The Parks Department chose to present one of these two sites, the "Track Infield", to Community Board 7. Ultimately, in the months of public meetings attempting to develop this site, it was recognized that this location would both displace too many other park users from their activities and require significant vista disturbing features (i.e., a bridge over the track). Additionally it engendered concerns from the dog owners themselves in terms of safety after dark given its significant distance from the street and lack of accessibility in the off season.

In October of 1999 the temporary "South Slope at 72nd Street" dog run was erected on the only viable site. Being the southernmost of the sites it had the added advantage of being central to the dog owning population that we were trying to accommodate. Given its topography, this field had never been used by any sports teams, school groups, was not specifically designated for other use, and in fact was infrequently used by others. Dog owners had already been using this slope for years as an informal off leash area, so the dog run displaced no other users. At the edge of the park, bordered on two sides by the Westside Highway and its 72nd Street Exit Ramp, it was not part of the original Olmsteadian design, and only has vistas from two directions. Approximately one acre, it is large enough to accommodate the dog run with ample room for the inclusion of a landscaped buffer zone. Given the ascending slope and sufficient land between the run and the highway, there was no need for new barriers to be erected. There are no paths through this field, and it is separated from the rest of the park by a path that is bordered by plantings, further separating the run from other users of the park such that conflicts between user groups are minimized. Finally, being east of the highway, in proximity to park exits and the street, it is safe for evening use and accessible for year round use.

Well over a year after the temporary dog run had been up and running in this location, the Parks Department proceeded to work on a design for a premier permanent facility. The original design by Gail Whitwer has been reexamined and upgraded by Eric Axelson, the Parks' Landscape Architect who succeeded her, and further refined by Margaret Bracken, the current landscape Architect for Riverside Park. All three Landscape Architects, as well as current Park Administrator K.C. Sahl, have agreed on the appropriateness of this site and lack of acceptable alternative sites. During the last two years of the refinement of this design plan, we continued to work closely with all of the previously mentioned offices. With the help of Community Board 7 which held periodic public meetings to reevaluate the temporary run's strengths and weakness, we reached out to the community at large including representatives from the Eleanor Roosevelt Memorial Fund who thoroughly approved our plan. The Chatsworth building owner and residents were consulted repeatedly, and all their concerns have been thoroughly addressed in the final design plan that is currently being presented by the Parks Department. The alleviation of these concerns include the relocation of the dog run west and north, away from the building and further from the Park entrance, and the laying of an extremely permeable and sanitary crushed granite surface to eliminate dust. We have even gone so far as to lock the facility at night and in the early morning to minimize noise. Finally, the addition of plantings will serve to both integrate the facility into the landscape and aid in buffering any noise.

This project has been 8 years in the making, has been thoroughly reviewed and approved by the NYC Parks Department, the Riverside Park Fund, Community Board 7, all our local elected officials, and most recently by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Art Commission of New York City.

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