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Op-Ed: Bywater Residents Left Out of Markey Park Plans
by Randi Kaufman
I’m a regular user of Mickey Markey Park, and have been bringing my dogs to the park daily since 2002. I remember when it was a bunch of overgrown weeds, and the broken down playground equipment was littered with used syringes and condoms.
After Katrina, it was clear that the city wasn’t going to even mow the park anymore. A group of friends who met at the park got together to make it a better place for all. We raised money through raffles and volunteer work to buy a riding mower and took turns mowing. We also bought chairs, water hoses and drinking bowls for the dogs. We declared ourselves the Mickey Markey Park Booster Club, created an online group, and asked all interested people to join.
Bywater resident Erica Knott, a member of the online Booster Club community, spearheaded an effort to build new playground equipment in the park. I helped Erica write the grant to Allstate’s playground program that paid for the great playground in use today. Many locals volunteered their time to put it together.
The park now is busy all day and evening with dog owners who are socializing their dogs, and who have created a center of community that spans many social groups and a large cross-section of Bywater and surrounding neighborhoods. And you can hear children laughing and playing now. It’s a wonderful thing.
Needless to say, I support the original renovation plan that includes a smaller area for off-leash dogs. This kind of multi-use park is a common and successful model used in cities around the country. I think many of the problems we faced in the past, such as waste disposal and incidents with aggressive dogs, would likely be resolved if the dog area was created in line with policies created by the Mayor’s Citizens Task Force on Dogs in Parks.
Mostly, I am just disheartened, but not shocked, by what has happened on the neighborhood and city levels, especially the decisions being made behind closed doors, without public comment, or in complete disregard for the public’s input. Add to that the lack of public information about what is going on, and it’s no wonder that regular park users are upset with the final renovation plans. We still don’t know much about the proposed dog park on the riverfront in Bywater--just the square footage, what we’ve seen in a couple of stylized drawings, and that there has been a series of missed opening dates.
Here are some examples of what I’m talking about.
In 2011, the Deputy Mayor Judy Reese Morse convened the Mayor’s Citizens Task Force on Dogs in Parks. The group’s report was delivered and Reese Morse declared that there would be a dog park in every district by the summer of 2012. Of course, there were no funds available, and this didn’t happen. The dog park issue was sent to the city’s Capital Projects department. Moreover, the task force’s policy recommendations were not even used to for the small dog run that slated to be part of the new riverfront park in Bywater. I can’t think of any good faith reasons why the city would pull together a task force of citizens, have them spend a lot of personal time and energy, and then disregard their recommendations.
Several surveys of Bywater residents on the use of the park demonstrated that an off-leash dog area was popular and desired. These surveys were done by the Booster Club and by the Bywater Neighborhood Association (BNA). In their minutes printed in the BNA’s newsletter, the BNA board decided to take a position against allowing any off-leash dogs in Mickey Markey Park. The minutes make it clear that instead of supporting the wishes of Bywater residents, they would align their position with that of a former board member in starting up a new neighborhood association.
The Trust for Public Land (TPL) had several public meetings to get input on the redesign of Mickey Markey Park. The first meeting had a very large turnout, and the facilitator, a professor of social work at Tulane, declared it a great public meeting. At the second meeting, TPL’s landscape architects presented three great designs that included space for off-leash dogs. The process ended there. The final, approved design (Editor's Note: Design plans are available here) was rammed through the system. It has no space for dogs, and there was no chance for dog owners, parents or anyone else to give public input into this last design.
Last night (2/21), a posting on the BNA’s Facebook page indicated that the February 25 start date for park renovations will be pushed back because more preparations are needed before the work begins. I’m not sure what this really is about, but I am going to keep hoping that something more positive happens. I hope that more information will be available, and that there will be some new opportunities that will allow for the wishes of the residents of Bywater to be taken into the plan for the park.
Randi Kaufman is a Bywater resident. Her opinions do not reflect the official views of the NoDef editorial board.
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