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Bushwick Residents Push for Irving Square Park Dog Run as Dog Ownership in the Nabe Booms

A group of Bushwick residents have reignited the campaign for a dog run at Irving Square Park, saying there’s no solution in sight to accommodate the growing number of dog owners in the neighborhood.

A group of Bushwick residents has reignited the campaign for a dog run at Irving Square Park, saying there’s no solution in sight to accommodate the growing number of dog owners in the neighborhood.

The issue, which has been simmering for almost a decade, boiled over again at a tense Brooklyn Community Board 4 meeting earlier this year with voices both for and against, residents say.

Now, some locals are renewing the push for the dog run by reviving the Friends of Irving Square Park group, determined to build community trust and unity on issues like the dog run and more.

More than 23 million American households — nearly 1 in 5 nationwide — adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to the ASPCA. Whether it is due to a rise in adoptions or new residents in Bushwick, Irving Square Park is noticeably more populated with dogs today than it was three years ago.

James Quinlan has lived near the park for nine years and is one of the Bushwick residents leading the renewed push.

“I could see that the dog run was obviously needed now more than ever because more people have dogs,” Quinlan said. 

While the park's off-leash hours are from 6:00am-9:00am and 9:00pm-10:00pm, it's not uncommon to see dogs off-leash at Irving Square Park all hours of the day. Some dog owners told BK Reader they could not make it to the park for off-leash hours. Others said they did not feel safe visiting the park after dark.

A decade-long debate

The push for a dog run goes back to at least 2014. In 2015, then-Council Member Rafael Espinal earmarked $650,000 for an Irving Square Park dog run, but the project stalled due to community pushback, with opponents citing safety concerns, opposition from residents along the Wilson Avenue length of the park, and many residents who said the children's playground should take precedence, Bklyner reported.

Since then, the reasons for opposition have not changed. A CB4 spokesperson told BK Reader the board previously vocalized support for prioritizing capital investment in the children's play area before any other projects.

"There are no proposals for a dog run in Irving Square Park being considered at this time," the CB4 spokesperson said.

Kathy Villagomez said she feels unsafe walking her dog in the park outside daylight hours. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader.

Determined to find a solution that works for the whole community, five Bushwick residents, including Quinlan, have revived the Friends of Irving Square Park group with a newly launched website and community-led programming like monthly clean-ups and barbecues in the past few months.

Its next steps are to conduct a community survey on the most appropriate location and aspects for a dog run and then turn that into a proposal to take to the CB4 Parks Subcommittee for approval before approaching the full board.

The million-dollar question

A dog run would require a responsible group to maintain and enforce the rules of the run, overwhelming support from CB4 and the community; an appropriate site approved by New York City Department of Parks and Recreation with consideration to tree health; drainage and distance from entrance; and funding, Brooklyn Parks Chairman Marty Maher told the community at a town hall hosted by District 37 Council Member Sandy Nurse on May 10, Quinlan said. The four points echoed advice he gave at a 2014 CB4 meeting.

During the May 10 meeting, Maher estimated a price tag of up to $1.4 million, with a construction timeline of about four years, Quinlan said. Maher could not be reached for comment. The meeting was not recorded.

The community would have to find a funding source, whether from elected officials, private funds or city or state grants, NYC Parks told BK Reader.

While Bushwick resident and local business owner Carolina Wang recently applied for City Participatory Budgeting funding for the project — following the lead of organizers behind the Maria Hernandez dog run — it was declined, despite major support in public comments, she said. 

"I'm for it," longtime resident Jesus Garcia said. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader.

Nurse could not be reached for comment on the dog run or its potential funding.

Meanwhile, the Irving Park patrons BK Reader spoke to favored the dog run but were shocked by the price tag. 

“Honestly, we don't even want an official dog run,” local dog owner Kathy Villagomez said at Irving Park. “We just want gates added on. We're not asking for much.”

“I'll do it for $50,000,” Bushwick resident and Irving Park patron Peter Duncanson said, only half-joking. “But I definitely think they should have it. The dog population is pretty big.”

“I’m for it,” Jesus Garcia, Bushwick resident of 26 years, said. “I love dogs, and if they’re over there, they won’t be here messing up the grass."

The informal dog run is no solution

Currently, dog owners tend to use the park's southern area as an informal dog run. Unlike the rest of the park, it is almost fully fenced and covered in dirt and mulch instead of grass.

Residents say they asked NYC Parks if they could just fully fence the park's southern area to make it a dog run — even in the interim. Parks said no.

"The Parks commissioner said they won't support an intermediate dog run, like, it's just not sanitary," Friends of Irving Square Park member Joe Tonelli told BK Reader. "And yeah, there is validity to that, but it's like, you're asking us to raise a million dollars in five years or nothing? There has to be some sort of partial solution here."

Dog owners wish it were as simple as gating this gap in the fence. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader.

The Parks department told BK Reader the key to a successful dog run is the community and friends groups that program and maintain the spaces. 

“Without a friends group that advocates for a dog run, we do not even begin the process of planning to add one because we know that they are more effective when there are committed community members working to upkeep these areas,” a Parks spokesperson said.   

Meanwhile, Wang said she recognized it could take years for a dog run to be realized, but she's patient, and the real priority is community building.

"What we are trying to do as Friends of Irving's core group — before we even tackle the dog run — is to create this community bond and to improve the relationship and show our faces all the time to make sure that they're trusting us that we're here to actually stay and not just here to make all the changes and leave." 

Jessy Edwards

About the Author: Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is an award-winning news and feature reporter whose work can be seen in such publications as NBC New York, Rolling Stone, the BBC, CNBC and more.
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