Since its founding in 1995, our group, FLORAL, has worked closely with Riverside Park administrators and the park’s municipal landscape architects on the design of what FLORAL hoped would 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 generally not very little thought was given to their permanence. Accordingly, they had no landscaping, no drainage, no water supply, no seating, and no amenities (such as baggie-distribution stations); moreover, they usually had inappropriate entryways without double safety gates. There was usually no regularly scheduled trash removal, as well. Issues with off-leash dogs were escalating throughout the park, and it was becoming clear that the Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR) wanted to do something to alleviate the problems; establishing dog runs that would be suitable for both dogs and their owners was rapidly becoming the obvious solution. As is now recognized by park administrators and city planners nationwide, dog runs need to be accessible, appealing, and functional-or they will remain underutilized scars on the environment. Just as playgrounds are designed with children and their activities in mind, so, too, dog runs must be designed with canines and “their people” in mind.
At some time after the initiation of FLORAL’s discussions with the DPR, the renovation of the Riverside Park dog run at 105th Street began. Embracing this new understanding of dog run-design, the DPR landscape architects incorporated essential features into the run’s plans to ensure proper sanitation, safety, ideal function, and aesthetics, and at the same time, addressing everyone’s 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 resulted in countless “official” walks through the park, studying it, with Charles McKinney, the former administrator of Riverside Park. Some of these site visits included additional local officials, including Councilmember Ronnie Eldridge, State Sena-tor Franz Leichter’s representatives, Assembly member Scott Stringer, representatives from the Riverside Park Fund, representatives from Community Board 7 and from various other community groups. To simplify the search, we broke the approximately 15 acres between 72nd and 79th Streets into identifiable sites, including the already designated, exclusive-use areas, namely four basketball courts, three baseball fields, three children’s playgrounds, numer-limited or minimal-impact on the surrounding landscape, and areas that would be aesthetically pleasing to all and would have minimal impact on other Riverside Park users. Critical to the site was that it be accessible to all dog owners, thereby maximizing its potential use and its benefit to the park overall. The DPR chose to present one of these two sites, the “Track Infield,” (the infield of the running track on the lower level of Riverside Park at 72nd Street) to Community Board 7. Ultimately, during the months of public meetings when we attempted to further the develop this site, it came to light that this infield area would both displace too many other park users from their activities and also would result in significant vista-disrupting features (i.e., a bridge over the track). Additionally, the selection of a site on the lower level engendered concerns from the dog owners themselves, who were worried about safety after dark, with a site so significantly distant from the street. Moreover, the issue of accessibility during the winter months was an issue, as well. In October of 1999, it became clear that the only viable site was the South Slope at 72nd Street and a temporary dog run was established there. Being the southernmost of the considered sites, it had the added advantage of being central to the dog-owning popu-lation. Given its hilly topography, this field had never been used by any sports teams, school groups, and was not specifically designated for other use; and, in fact, it was rarely frequented by other park users. Dog-owners had already been using this slope for years as an informal off-leash area, so a dog run here would displace no other users. It is located at the edge of the park, bordered on two sides by the Westside Highway and its 72nd Street exit ramp; moreover, it was not part of the original Charles Law Olmsted plans for Riverside Park. The site had vistas from two directions, making it easier to incorporate into the land-scape. Approximately one acre in size, it is large enough to accommodate a 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 potential run site from other users of the park, helping to obviate any potential conflicts between user groups in the future. 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 DPR proceeded to work on a design for a premier, permanent facility. The original design by Gail Whitwer, the landscape architect from the DPR, was re-examined and upgraded by Eric Axelson, Whitwer’s successor. The plans were 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, agreed on the appropriateness of this site and the 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 re-evaluate 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 (the westernmost building on 72nd Street at the time) building owner and residents were consulted repeatedly, and all their concerns were thor-oughly addressed in the final design plan that was presented by the DPR. To obviate the issues they raised, the relocation of the dog run to a position farther west and north-farther away from the building and further from the Park entrance-was implemented; addition-ally, an extremely permeable and sanitary crushed-granite surface was incorporated into the design to eliminate dust. The facility is locked at night and unlocked in the morning, to ensure that there are no users in it during the hours when neighboring residents are sleep-ing. Finally, the addition of plantings were planned to serve to both integrate the facility into the landscape and aid in buffering noise. This project has been nine years in the making and has been thoroughly reviewed and approved by the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, the Riverside Park Fund, Com-munity Board 7, all our local elected officials, and most recently by the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Art Commission of New York City.