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Aldermen howl about requirements — and financing — for dog parks

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Updated: February 16, 2014 6:29AM

The Chicago Park District was urged Tuesday to create more dog parks for the city’s 600,000 canines — and to lower the fundraising bar for dog owners — after aldermen authorized financing for Chicago’s 21st dog park.

The City Council’s Committee on Special Events, Cultural Affairs and Recreation agreed to contribute $195,081 in “open-space impact fees” collected from local developers to build the nearly half-acre park on a city-owned lot at 1358 W. Monroe.

The total budget for the park is $910,081, in part because the Park District demands that dog parks be built with artificial turf. That’s in addition to a requirement that local groups of dog owners maintain dog parks.

“The community wanted grass. I’ve tried and tried, [but] the Park District will not do the grass. So, rather than not have a park, we take the artificial turf,” said local Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), who called the turf vs. grass debate a “big holdup” on a project 10 years in the making.

“Folks want things to be as natural as possible for their dogs. ... I was advocating on the community’s behalf. I even tried to get the Park District to do half and half. The Park District said, `It’s not our policy. We don’t want to have to come in years later and have to tear the whole thing out and put some more grass down.’ ”

Ald. Deborah Mell (33rd) noted that other cities don’t have a “turf-only” policy for dog parks.

“It’s much more expensive. It makes it more difficult for people to raise money for it,” Mell said.

Doreen O’Donnell, research and planning manager for the Park District, said there’s a good reason why artificial turf is “the standard” for Chicago’s 20 existing dog parks and three more currently under construction.

“The grass — we’ve discovered that it just gets destroyed,” she said.

Mell then turned to the maintenance requirement, asking “What happens if the people who signed up to maintain [a dog park] move away or get too busy?”

O’Donnell replied, “Either another group takes on that responsibility or the Park District may revert it back to another park use.”

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) accused the Park District of setting the bar too high in a city that’s home to more than 600,000 dogs.

“Demographics of the city are changing. People are having children later. Some people are choosing not to have children. People have more dogs. Parks in our city should reflect that. [But] it doesn’t seem like dog-friendly areas are fundamentally part of the Park District’s mission, which puts the cost of raising funds and maintaining dog-friendly areas onto our constituents,” Pawar said.

“If the Park District ... were to re-think your mission and understand that parks should be also inclusive of families who just have dogs or who have dogs and children, that might be a different way to think about dog-friendly areas, rather than just pushing the cost down.”

O’Donnell replied, “We do have financial challenges. It’s difficult when we’re trying to provide programming for children, to say, `We’re going to invest [in dogs]. It’s difficult to justify.”


Twitter: @fspielman

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