A “separable area” in the Queen’s Park off-leash area and a dog parklet along the Agnes Greenway are two of the initiatives being proposed in the city’s People, Parks and Pups strategy.
In 2020, the city hired Space2Place consultants to develop a 10-year strategy that promotes the comfort and safety of all park users by fostering responsible dog ownership and clarifying rules, boundaries and etiquette for dog off-leash activity in parks and open spaces. City council recently received the draft strategy and will bring it back in the near future for council’s consideration.
“The strategy considers all points of view, thus from dog- and non-dog owners in planning, design and maintaining space for dogs that respects a diversity of parks and open space uses,” said Erika Mashig, the city’s manager of parks and open space planning, design and construction.
Some of the actions recommended in the strategy include: prioritizing under-served areas when creating new off-leash areas; aiming to provide off-leash areas within 1 kilometre (a 15-minute walk) of most residents; working with third-party landowners to identify underutilized lands for temporary off-leash use; and locating waste bins in convenient locations for dog owner to deposit dog waste.
Alison Maddaugh, a landscape architect with Space2Place, said there has been a 25% increase in the number of dog parks in the United States in the past five years and a 74% increase in the past 10 years.
“The demand for off-leash areas is rising,” she said. “Estimates suggest that the number of Canadian households with dogs is roughly equal to the number of households with children. Dog off-leash areas are among the fastest growing park amenities across North America.”
According to a staff report, as demand for more off-leash areas continues to grow with the population, the parks and recreation department recognized the need to develop a strategy that provides adequate spaces for dogs and balancing the many other, and often competing, recreational needs in the community.
Maddaugh said the strategy aims to make parks and open spaces safe and inviting for everyone – whether or not they have a dog.
“Having that well-designed and well-located dog off-leash area can make New Westminster’s parks better for all users,” she said.
Maddaugh said the strategy proposes actions that work with the fact that New West is a land-constrained community. She said designated off-leash areas (OLAs) in city parks would be supplemented by dog parklets.
“This is borrowing an idea that has been tested in various municipalities in different ways to shift vehicle parking spaces into space for the public realm,” she explained.
For people who may find it challenging to walk one kilometre to get to an off-leash area, she said the dog parklets would fill gaps between park OLAs and would provide vibrant social spaces where people can meet with their dog, Maddaugh said.
Shared park space – when areas within parks allow off-leash activity during designated hours – was another concept considered during the development of the strategy. The concept of a one-year pilot project to test designated off-leash hours in parks and trails in downtown and Queensborough was pondered during the community engagement process.
“Those two locations were selected because we know that those are the most underserved, based on our analysis,” Maddaugh said. “We had a lot of mixed opinions and a lot of safety concerns. What we heard a lot was this sort of idea that it’s worth a try and doing it as a pilot project would be a good idea. But then people also expressed a lot of concern about people enjoying nearby areas might be at risk, worry about children’s safety, and essentially and most simply, ‘I do not feel safe around dogs that are off leash.”
For now, the consultant is recommending the city focus on park off-leash areas and dog parklets and is not recommending a pilot project related to designated off-leash hours in city parks and trails.
One thing that is being proposed is the creation of the city’s first dog parklet along the Agnes Street greenway. It would be monitored for six to 12 months before any other parklets are created.
“We know with that with concentrated use we really need to keep it being attractive in order for it to be a vibrant part of the public realm,” she said of dog parklets. “Otherwise it can really draw down that public realm and that’s not what we want, especially when we recognize this can be a lot of fun and can be socially engaging spaces.”
The new dog parklet will incorporate learnings from the dog relief station that was created on Columbia Street in July 2016. The space, which is about the size of a parking stall and is covered in turf, wasn’t intended to be a place for people to exercise or socialize their dogs, but to be a place where the dogs could relieve themselves – instead of doing their business on sidewalks, streets, gardens or other public areas.
Another new initiative being proposed in the strategy is the creation of a “separable area” that provides an opportunity for shy or small dogs to be separated from “the all-dog areas” in off-leash areas.
“This is something we are looking at piloting in Queen’s Park, where we do have an all-dog area and a small-dog area,” Mashig said. “Often when you carve off a piece of a dog off-leash area for smaller, shy dogs, the other result is the all-dog park becomes quite small for the other dogs. The strategy here would be to create a separable area. The fence between the small and the large area actually can roll open and it can become one large space. In the case that a resident would like to use the small dog area for their shy dog or small dog, they can simply roll the gate closed and use that space for that time. It’s really creating a bit of a convertible option for us, which we are excited to try out.”