West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 24 | November 14 - 20, 2007

Polo players, kids keep park from going to the dogs

By Matt Townsend 

When a bike polo league started two years ago in the Lower East Side’s Sara D. Roosevelt Park, the polo players often sparred with local kids over who got to use a flat space of blacktop called “the pit.”

The kids wanted the roughly 7,000-square-foot multiuse space located just south of Delancey St. to play baseball and kickball while the group of bike messengers and other cyclists wanted to expand the emerging street sport.

“There was some conflict over who was here first,” said Dave Currence, an organizer and player in the polo league. “But we patched those things up.” 

So much so that they recently formed an ad-hoc coalition that brought together the city’s bike culture and Lower East Side grade school boys to raise opposition and help defeat a proposed dog run planned on the site of the pit. The Community Board 3 Parks Committee rejected a proposal to turn the pit into a dog run at a meeting last Thursday, but asked the city to look for a dog run site in the area. The board’s votes are advisory only.

“One of the great things was to see the kids there and speak up on their own behalf and be successful,” said Kay Webster, a longtime Lower East Side resident and co-chairperson of Sara D. Roosevelt Park’s M’Finda Kalunga Garden.

Currence found out about the proposed dog run when a friend saw a petition in a nearby coffee shop. The bikers then fanned out into the neighborhood to tell people. They recruited the kids to tell their friends and hand out fliers. 

“The bike people road through and told one of us,” said Jose Romero, 11, who was one of a handful of neighborhood boys that attended the meeting. “And then we told all the teenagers.” 

Their combined efforts worked well as they collected several hundred signatures of people opposed to the dog run and had a better turnout at the meeting than those in favor. The attendance of about 30 people helped deflate the dog owners’ claim that the space rarely gets used.

“They were one of the first groups we approached,” Currence said of the local youth. “They were pretty upset from the get-go. We asked them to hand out fliers and they were right there doing that with us.” 

The dog owners felt they lost the chance to get the proposal passed when the board members became aware that the kids in the audience came to save the pit. C.B. 3 member Thomas Yu reinforced that sentiment, saying that in his job as a housing advocate in the Chinese community, he often hears from families who pack 10 or 11 people into an apartment that their kids need more places to play. 

“It got framed as kids versus dogs, but that’s not the situation,” said Garrett Rosso, a dog run advocate who manages the Tompkins Square Park dog run. “The situation is really that we’re trying to get a dog park considered as they redevelop Sara Roosevelt Park.” 

City Parks official Bob Redmond, who attended the meeting to present renovation plans for James Madison Park and playgrounds in Tompkins Square Park and Sara Roosevelt Park, said that locating a spot for a dog run involved more than finding an open space. 

The initial dog run in Tompkins Square Park had to be moved twice because at first it was too close to residences and then a playground. In both cases, people complained of the smell and sound made by the dogs and got the run moved further into the park. He also said that Sara Roosevelt presented a problem because it’s a skinny park and residences surround it, so people would be close enough to smell and hear the dogs.

“We have looked all over this area for dog runs and haven’t found the space,” said Redmond, who has helped find dog run sites in the city for several years. “Sara Roosevelt has too many windows overlooking the park.” 

Opponents voiced concern that dog noise might affect the Wah Mei Bird Garden that sits 10 feet north of the pit. Bird owner and frequent garden visitor Wai Lee said the birds actually like noise and the owners do, too, because it makes the birds sing more. But the birds don’t like seeing dogs, so Lee thought a wall would have to be erected to hide the animals from each other.  

“Noise doesn’t affect them,” Lee said. “But they don’t like to see the creatures.” 

The dog owners, who gathered hundreds of signatures in support for the dog run, said that a run would increase safety in the park at night. 

“What’s unique about dog parks is that dog owners are the only ones in the park after dark,” Rosso told the meeting. “They bring a sort of neighborhood watch group to the area.” 

The dog run advocates also complained that the nearest dog run is a mile away from the Lower East Side.

“There really is no place to take our dogs,” Lloyd Blander stated at the meeting. “It’s really said. I can’t let my dog run around. He can’t get his exercise.” 

From Sara Roosevelt, the city’s largest dog run is a little less than a mile away in Tompkins Square. A dog run that consists of a patch of asphalt lies about a half a mile away from Sara Roosevelt under the Manhattan Bridge on Pike St. in the Coleman Playground. 

“I’m sure there’s going to be a solution, and if there’s not, then we’ll bring it back up again in six months,” said Emily Sandberg, an organizer for the dog run. 

Webster said that the dog owners should talk to more longtime residents and do what she and her fellow gardeners did 20 years ago when they turned a decrepit part of the park littered with broken glass into a community garden.

“If you get a group of people that wants to do it, then do it,” Webster said. “That’s how you build a community. I think there is a way to resolve this.” 

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