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Designed for dogs

Catherine Carter

A teetering tower of dog treats, a reflective pool for hot paws to cool off, and an artwork that turns Yves Klein blue when participants pee on it…

Dogumenta was not your run-of-the-mill art show, but America’s first curated art experience for canines. The show, held in Brookfield Place in Lower Manhattan in August, was co-curated by art critic a Jessica Dawson and her Maltese-Yorkshire terrier Rocky – and the only difference between Dogumenta and “serious” shows was that the art was positioned at “puppy-eye-level”.

According to the RSCPA, Australia is home to 4.2 million dogs. We have one of the highest rates of dog ownership in the world, with 39 percent of households claiming a canine companion.

But as our cities densify, and as people and their dogs live in smaller dwellings, “man’s best friend” deserves greater consideration in city planning.

Jennifer Wolch, a professor of planning at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design and a pioneer in the study of the relationship between urban dwellers and their dogs, uses the term “zoöpolis” to describe a multi-species city.

“Cities are places where many millions of dogs live. In my view, they actually deserve, as residents, space for living their own lives,” she says.

In London, dogs can travel on the Tube for free (provided they are leashed and are carried on the escalators), and eight royal parks permit hounds to run free. Rome has a serene stretch along the Tiber that is picture-perfect for dog walking.

Paris, of course, is famed for its pampered pooches, which squeeze next to diners and drinkers at bars, cafés and restaurants throughout the city. Furry friends are also allowed to frolic through many of Paris’ parks, including the Tuileries and Luxembourg Gardens.

Portland has 33 dog parks, its own social network for dog lovers, and the Lucky Labrador Brewing company, where dog owners can down a pint with Fido in tow.

And in New York, those that love or loathe dogs can check out an interactive map of the Big Apple’s streets to determine the doggy density – and where they are most likely to be tangled up in leads or step on some doggy doo (which responsible dog owners, of course, don’t leave lying around).

Jennifer Wolch says that dog parks are just another kind of urban infrastructure that meets the needs of its citizens – four legged and furry or otherwise.

Jennifer’s research has found that dog parks are important social mixing grounds, and opportunities for people from different neighbourhoods and backgrounds to connect and converse.

Arabella Rohde, town planner and Senior Development Manager at the University of Canberra, agrees.

She points to a friend who recently moved into a high-density area with a pre-established park which was forming into a hub for dog walkers by new residents. “The park was a place for social interaction and inclusion,” she says. “This had a positive influence on my friend’s perception of their home and sense of community.”

Canberra has been voted the best city in Australia for dogs on several occasions, and just a few weeks ago, Haig Park was overrun with pugs as pets and their owners gathered for dog races. Corin Forest held its first “snow dogs” weekend in September. And in recent years, both dachshund and pug races have lent a wacky and wonderful mood to City Walk.

The ACT Government has recently invested $200,000 to upgrade six off-leash dog parks around Canberra, and to construct a seventh at Duffy. New water stations, shade trees, fences and seating have made these spaces safer and more comfortable for people and their pets.

But designing cities for dogs may take a technological revolution. Dogs are already microchipped, and it is only a matter of time before RFID chips enable us to analyse where dogs live and play. Dog owners can already check out dog parks or watering stations with a phone app. So, what’s next? Tinder for dogs, anyone?


Catherine Carter

A lover of books and beauty, a seasoned traveller and a creative thinker, Catherine Carter is passionate about Canberra. Head of the Property Council of Australia’s Canberra office for more than a decade, Catherine now provides specialist business and communication consultancy services with a focus on urban environments, new forms of collaboration, community building and diversity. Catherine was the recipient of the Telstra Business Women’s ACT Community and Government Award in 2010 and the National Association of Women in Construction Crystal Vision Award in 2017. More about the Author