In Honor of National Dog Day

My smallest one - Dobby.

My smallest one - Dobby.

In honor of National Dog Day, I have included here an excerpt from my forthcoming new book, The Emotional Infrastructure of Places. This section deals with the increasing importance of dogs in our lives and in our cities.

The Emotional Infrastructure of Places -  Canine Infrastructure

          As much as we love our cars and our phones, there is perhaps one love that might eclipse that emotional connection. That is our deep and abiding love affair with our dogs, which has dramatically expanded in recent generations, and is necessitating a new conversation and practice around the infrastructure to support our four-footed friends. 

“Whoever can solve the dogshit problem can be elected mayor of (the city), even President of the United States,” said iconic San Francisco councilman Harvey Milk in the early 1970s.[i]Milk, best known as a champion of LGBTQ rights, initially came to prominence through the issue of dogs in the city. It was, and is, a quality of life issue for urban residents. Dogs have been living with us in our cities for centuries now, but the recent return to cities, especially downtowns, has brought to the forefront the issue of how we integrate and accommodate these creatures into our lives and our places. 

I am a dog owner. Actually, let me clarify that statement—I am a ‘dog parent.’ I now have three lovely, sometimes crazy dogs, and no kids. I dote on the dogs, dressing them up for the appropriate holidays, taking them on play dates with other dogs, and spending a lot of money on their overall health and wellbeing. I am a dog parent—and there are a lot of us. 

According the American Veterinary Medical Association, 36.5% of U.S. households, or over 43 million households, own dogs.[ii]This equates to over 70 million dogs in the U.S. In Europe, the percentages are not quite as high; Germany and the U.K. top the list in terms of dog ownership. Germany has over 8.6 million dogs (roughly 10% of the population) and the U.K. has 8.5 million dogs (over 16% of the population).[iii]In Japan, a country that is seeing declining population growth, the number of registered pets outnumbers children by several million.[iv]

Consider the all-important Millennial age cohort. Their attitudes and values are becoming the defining age segment in U.S. and around the world. According to studies, 2018 was the key year that Millennial purchasing power eclipsed that of Baby Boomers[v]and made them the most economically significant age group. As discussed earlier in reference to 21stcentury infrastructure, the importance of Millennials tastes and preferences has forced cities to re-evaluate their thinking and practice as it relates to this group. 

As we look at the Millennial cohort, the importance of dogs is even more pronounced. Surveys indicate that 44% Millennials see dogs as “starter children”[vi]and perhaps even replacements for children.[vii]I don’t think we fully appreciate the impacts of that attitude. Cities in pursuit of Millennial residents will have to up their game around the infrastructure needed to support dog ownership. 

In For the Love of Cities, I wrote about how dog-friendly cities are lovable cities. They benefit from the externalities of dog ownership: street level activity, green space, safety, social interaction, and increased social capital. Dogs help humanize cities and force us to interact with each other, largely to the benefit of our cities. Dog parks and green spaces have become even more valued and seen as critical elements in making choices about where to live. No longer just nice to have, these spaces are becoming ‘must haves’ for cities.

In my further research around this area I was struck by an extraordinary statistic: the growing number of cities where dogs outnumber children. Seattle appears to be the first U.S. city that documented this phenomenon as far back as 1997.[viii]San Francisco, with statistically the fewest children of any major city in the U.S., follows suit. According to the 2010 census, San Francisco had 107,524 people under the age of 18 and over 150,000 dogs.[ix]Seattle and San Francisco are not outliers, they are bellwethers for other cities. The decline of children in major urban areas has been well documented and discussed. What has been less discussed is the need for dog-related urban design. 

How many cities have declared themselves great places for families and kids? I hear it all the time—that orientation in design and development has driven our urban design and policy decisions for generations. Consider how much of our city is designed around the idea of supporting families with children. As Millennials delay or forego traditional parenting and turn toward pets as viable lifestyle alternatives, our cities need to rethink our fundamental approach to policy and design.

Let me be absolutely clear—I am not advocating for the supremacy or prioritization of animals over children. What I am suggesting is that attitudinal and demographic shifts need to be accounted for and included in our thinking about for whom and what our cities are designed. Significantly, these additions and accommodations are far less expensive than our education systems and other child-related infrastructure. 

Even those who are anti-dog benefit from the effects of dogs and dog-related infrastructure in their neighborhood. Installing more green spaces and parklets in more areas of town adds economic value to those areas. Adding a dog park to an existing green space and playground brings more citizens together, enhances neighborhood safety, and enriches the community experience for all. Even those who don’t own a dog can go and sit in the dog park and watch the puppies play. (Similar behavior at a playground full of kids might get you arrested!)

In response to demand, more cities have opened dog parks, and expanded parks and public green space. However, we are also seeing communities and the private sector respond with new and innovative approaches that show how far we are moving beyond this standard playbook and how dogs actually can be used to help solve many other problems. 

In April 2018, the Jacksonville Jaguars announced that they would be opening a dog park at their home stadium for the 2018 NFL season.[x]The team collaborated with pet boarding and day camp Pet Paradise to provide a 2,000 square foot park complete with a doggie pool, high speed internet, and cameras so that fans can check in on their dogs during the game. If big businesses like the NFL are paying attention to the relationship we have with our dogs, many more are soon to follow. 

In downtown Las Vegas, there is a dog park called the Hydrant Club. Unlike most other dog parks, this one is a private, members-only dog park that is more like a dog country club than a park. Over 15,000 square feet of both indoor and outdoor space, the park includes water features, play equipment, and just about anything your dog would like to play with. The Hydrant Club was founded in 2013 by Cathy Brooks, a Silicon Valley transplant to downtown Las Vegas. Brooks credits a meeting she had with Tony Hsieh, the visionary CEO of Zappos, for the inspiration to move to Las Vegas. Hsieh and his company have championed the Downtown Project, which has reshaped downtown Las Vegas. Zappos not only purchased and repurposed the old City Hall into its corporate headquarters, the company has taken over several other buildings as corporate housing, and actively recruited new businesses and start-up entrepreneurs into the area, including Brooks. 

As many of Zappos employees moved downtown, it became evident that they needed support services including dog walking and day care. In fact, at a Zappos all-hands meeting, Brooks heard from employees that their number one request was for doggy day care downtown. Brooks realized that this was much needed and fun opportunity for her to step into this community. 

Brooks told me that the Hydrant Club is just that—a club with members who form a community. The Club acts as a dog park at its most basic level, but it also offers a range of concierge services for dogs and their parent-owners, including the much-needed daycare service for working people. The Hydrant Club is Brooks’ full-time job now, along with six other part-time employees. The park is open seven days a week with daycare offered Monday through Friday. Zappos CEO Tony Hseih’s dog Blizzy is a member. The Club has influenced other aspects of its neighborhood: the ongoing speaker series downtown is called “Speak,” and there are several Yappy Hour events in the restaurants and bars. The Hydrant Club is a valuable piece of infrastructure, just like a supermarket or a transportation node, in the jobs-business-lifestyle calculus that is modern economic development.

Seattle, Washington, already one of the most dog friendly cities in the world, saw several innovative developments in 2017. Amazon, which is headquartered in downtown Seattle, opened a 2,000 square foot dog park on its campus.[xi]Primarily for its employees, the park is also open to the public. While certainly a positive perk for happy employees, studies also show that dogs in workplaces create positive environments for creativity, collaboration and social interaction[xii]. Companies like Amazon and Zappos are not just doing this to be cool places to work. They clearly see the bottom-line benefit to the company in having a happy, satisfied, collaborative, and creative workforce. 

In the summer of 2017, the Downtown Seattle Association created a series of “pop up” dog parks. The association brought in live grass and food trucks into downtown areas such as Pioneer Park on the second Sundays of June, July and August. The main objective was to further activate these downtown areas, but there was a significant secondary benefit as well. The activation of spaces directly addresses street crime, and in an indirect way, homelessness and panhandling. Active, vibrant spaces are not conducive to illicit activity, so dog parks (whether pop-up or permanent) are bulwarks against crime.[xiii]And while these parks do not directly address the challenges of homelessness in our communities, they do address its visibility. 

When homeless populations congregate, many non-homeless folks get nervous and avoid those areas. This creates a cascade effect; the homeless gravitate to places where they will not be bothered, further increasing their numbers and visibility, which in turn pushes other city dwellers away. To change this dynamic, you need create more activity that provides reasons for people to come to these areas. The pop-up dog parks were exactly that type of activity. They do not address the fundamental issues of homelessness, but they do help us collectively interact with each other and see that we can all share the city together. 

Again and again, we see the positive impacts on our communities by the inclusion of dogs in our design, yet I am still surprised by how many communities struggle with the idea of dog parks and pet-friendly ordinances. The “No Dogs” lobby is alive and well in many places, but its sway over communities is clearly waning. As communities make the case for dog parks based upon safety, community building, economic benefits, health benefits (both physical and emotional), productivity benefits, talent attraction and retention, and social capital, these benefits and the marginal costs to implement them should make the inclusion of dogs in our cities a no-brainer. 

Projects like the Hydrant Club and pop-up dog parks are exemplars of this movement. As I travel across the country, I see how commonplace these kinds of efforts are becoming. Most are not as nice as the Hydrant Club, but the general idea is becoming standard practice for businesses, governments, and anyone involved in placemaking efforts. I believe this goes beyond the economics of making attractive, interesting spaces and is addressing a deeper, emotional, perhaps even spiritual, need.

The relationship people have with their dogs today feels manifestly different from a generation or two ago. Granted we have changed a lot, and we no doubt treat our dogs better, and with more sensitivity to their needs than we did a few decades ago. There is also a racial component to dog ownership that is changing over time as well. White households are on average about three times more likely to have a dog than African American or Hispanic households. Dog ownership is an expense, and lagging economic progress impedes on the adoption of dogs into households. I would also be remiss to not mention that dogs were used as weapons against the African American community within the lifetimes of many community members. That emotional awareness needs to be part of the conversation. Certainly, this feels different amongst the Millennial cohort, and their attitudes about dogs will be the prevailing standard for years to come. 

But that progression alone does not explain the elevated, some might say privileged, position that dogs now play in our lives. The emergence of private parks for dogs, ever increasing comfort animals in airports, high-end dog hotels, restaurants that accommodate both two- and four-footed patrons—all this speaks to a greater need.

I believe that we are using our pets, specifically our dogs, as an antidote to the physical, cultural and technological environment we have created. When we built our interstate highway system, we did not overtly intend to create a car culture that isolated us, but we did. When we built gated communities and suburban homes, we did not intend to isolate ourselves from our neighbors, but we did. When we created smart phones, social media and ubiquitous, persistent connectivity, we thought we were connecting people together. In many, many ways we did—but, again, one of the unintended consequences is the isolation of being alone among many, even while physically together and technologically connected. This same technology has fueled some of our baser instincts as well. We may always have been self-centered, stimulus-seeking, and motivated by instant gratification, but our technology has empowered those motivations and taken them to unhealthy, and even dangerous, heights. In this complex environment our basic need for human connection is even more essential. 

Kathy Brooks said to me, “We can utilize our dogs to help us be more human.” At our best, this is certainly true. Dog ownership, dog parenting, is a responsibility. We think of something beyond ourselves. Dogs require us to get out of our house and interact with our environments. In doing so, we may see other people and, even if we only nod a greeting, we connect with other human beings. A less generous interpretation of this affinity would suggest that our dogs are merely an extension of our self-absorption and narcissism. Is it any wonder that a creature who looks at us with love and adoration, as if we are the most special person on Earth, is going to do well in our self-absorbed, selfie-taking society? Unlike a child, the dog is the perfect accessory to our modern lifestyle. Our dogs have helped fill a very real emotional gap in our modern lives. 

Regardless of the ultimate motivation people have for including a dog in their lives, as city builders, as place-makers, we need to be thinking about this reality. In an immediate sense, our places need to allow for this relationship and support it. Over the longer term, we need to think about how we created this need in people and how we might improve the systems that make up our cities. I am not suggesting that we will design the dog out of our lives—absolutely not. Thousands of years of evolution has made us uniquely well-suited companions, to the betterment of both species. What our dogs have actually done is help fill the gaps in our systems and point to the issues that require our attention. In that sense, these remarkable creatures have proven again to be our best friends—friends who love us unconditionally as we are, yet whose very companionship elevates us and points to our better selves. 


End Notes














Calgary Co-Creator Jim Button

I meet a lot of amazing people as I travel from city to city. That is one of the great joys of my work. But sometimes you meet someone who stands out even in the midst of other truly exceptional people. I met Jim Button in Calgary in May of this year. We only spent about 45 minutes together but he made an impression.  Jim is the founder of Village Brewery and uses beer as a way of bringing people together.  As he told me, an invitation to "grab a beer" is not about drinking, it is about connecting.  He has used his beer to bring people together in other ways, including using food trucks to take the party into unexpected places around Calgary.  

I am gathering material for what I hope will be my next book and was thinking about Jim in the context of that work. Here is a great piece in Jim's own words that will help you to better understand the man and his work.…/jim-button-24e2590aa48d

St. Pete Indie Market

I get to see farmers markets and local markets all over the world.  They are fantastic love notes for their communities.  St. Pete's Saturday Morning Market has been a mainstay of downtown for over a decade.  I wrote about it in my first book, and I do believe that it played and continues to play a key role in the reinvention of downtown.  Added to that mix is the hyper local Indie Market.  I visited it on the first Saturday of June at its Summer headquarters, the State Theater on Central Avenue.  Summer is when most farmers markets move outdoors but not here in the Sunshine State!  We locals know it is way too hot be outside so kudos to the Indie Market for moving indoors to a local, signature venue.  

The New St. Pete Pier

In "Love Where You Live" I took my home town a bit to task for lack of progress on the replacement pier.  There had been an earlier plan that was approved by the city but ultimately stalled after a public referendum on the project put the city back to square one.  Now we are seeing progress on the new pier and the city will have a new, signature landmark within the next couple of years.  

The 400 Block in Downtown St. Petersburg

The removal of a decayed, empty building has opened up Central Avenue for new development.  What I like is that while the new development is in the planning stages, the developer and the city did not want a construction site in the heart of downtown and so we have a temporary "Central Park."  While you can't go in it, at least it looks so much better than chain link fence around a hole in the ground.  

Mash Up for Halloween

I was speaking with a group from the Alliance for Innovation today on a webinar and was challenging them to think about ways of adding fun to the mix of our various projects.  I mentioned the idea of a neighborhood clean up which is a good, solid community project but not necessarily thought of as ‘fun’ in the traditional sense.  So based on the current season, I opined that maybe we could mash up a Trick or Treat event with a neighborhood clean up and make the later a more fun and engaging event.  Seems like a natural fit.  If any communities out there have done something like this, I’d love to hear about it!

Best Friend of Cities

Last week my regional alternative press held their annual “Best of the Bay” awards. Creative Loafing highlights everything from Best Dining Adventure (Locale Market in St. Pete) to Best City Council Person (my friend Darden Rice) to Best sign of intelligent life in South Tampa (Cass Contemporary Gallery).  The awards are an awesome, highly creative and a fantastic snapshot of the things we (mostly) love about our community. So I was very honored that CL awarded me the designation of being “Best Friend of Cities”.

In our work, in our lives, we want to be known for something. And I think it is especially nice to be known as a friend. Think of that designation. One of the finest things we can say about a person is that he or she is a friend. So I take the title with a great deal of appreciation. My friend and in many ways mentor, Charles Landry, set that standard for me years ago by his example.

Landry is the English author of many books, the most well know being the seminal “The Creative City”. He is a global citizen who has worked in hundreds of cities all over the world. I first met him in 2004 and recall thinking that his work and career were something that I wanted to emulate. Charles calls himself a “critical friend” to cities; someone who cares deeply about places and can see them with a clarity and truthfulness that is sometimes hard for locals to muster. Think about it – a real friend will tell you when your shoes and belt don’t match. A real friend will tell you when you haircut is bad. A real friend will tell you when you are wrong.   Landry is that critical friend to the places he works with and that is something I have tried to emulate.

As the “city love guy” part of my job is to be relentlessly positive about places. I find the bright spots, the love notes and the things that make an emotional impact on people. I do try to look at the bad as well and not ignore the most challenging aspects of the cities I visit. But as a friend, I love you despite the flaws. In fact, I think I love your places because of the flaws. It is in the flaws that we strive to become better and to rise to the challenge building something.   As a best friend, I’d like to think that in good times or bad, I am someone you want to see, connect with and maybe just commiserate with. A best friend sometimes just listens. So thank you Creative Loafing for reminding me of what my job actually is and how lucky I am to have it.

Every City Has People That Love It

Last week saw a massive amount of coverage marking the 10 year … ‘anniversary’ is the wrong word – memorial of Hurricane Katrina. The stories of triumph and tragedy reminded us how rebuilding the Gulf Coast, New Orleans in particular, became a national cause. And the view ten years on is mostly positive. Schools and homes have been rebuilt, systems and infrastructure has been updated and people, though not all, have returned to New Orleans. Over and over again you heard stories that emphasized people’s love for the city. I wrote in For the Love of Cities, how New Orleans at that writing (2011) was the most exciting city in America because of the influx of people, ideas, money and passion that was rebuilding a great American city. Today New Orleans remains a work in progress but clearly on a different and higher path than the one it was on before the storm. New Orleans has become the benchmark of how love of place can sustain a place even in the worst of times.

New Orleans is not singular in this love affair with place. Every place has people that love it and it is those people that can be the difference between failure and rebirth. New Orleans captured so much of our national attention in part because of its size but also because of the size of its reputation. So many of us had visited New Orleans and partaken of its food, music and culture. We had watched Super Bowls and Su
gar Bowls from the Super Dome. We all felt New Orleans, at least a little bit. Other cities did not have that benefit when they were challenged by disasters.

I think of two cities yet there are so many more. I have been fortunate to work in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and Joplin, Missouri over the past few years. Each city was rocked by a disaster, flooding in Cedar Rapids in 2008 and an EF5 tornado in Joplin in 2011. Each city received an initial outpour of sympathy and support. Federal funds flowed into each and rebuilding began. But neither city resides in our broad national consciousness the way that New Orleans does. Rebuilding those cities fell upon the shoulders of their citizens – the ones who loved their place. People like my friends Amanda West and Andy Stoll in Cedar Rapids and Jane Cage in Joplin. Their everyday heroism is the story of the vast majority of our cities everywhere. People who make the conscious choice to show up, to raise a hand to help where they can and perhaps most importantly of all – not leaving.

Every city has people that love it. If you are reading this, chances are you are one of those people. You may not realize it but your are rarer and more valuable than you think. Cities everywhere need more people who love them because when we love something, we go above and beyond for it, we forgive shortcomings and we will fight for it. Cities everywhere need more people who do more than pay their taxes, spend their money and obey the law. That should be the minimums in our relationship with our places. And sometimes it takes a disaster or threat to shake us out of our everyday malaise and remind of us of the important our places, but I hope we can find a bit of introspection and perspective in the clear light of a sunny day.

“The Great Good Place”

I am very excited to meet Dr. Ray Oldenburg this coming week. Oldenburg is the author of The Great Good Place, which began the conversation about the importance of “third spaces” like coffee shops, cafes, parks and public gathering spaces.  My friends at St. Petersburg Preservation are bringing him into town for a lecture and were gracious enough to arrange for us to meet.

Place makers today take for granted the idea of the importance of the third space – that which is not home or work.  Yet when Dr. Oldenburg first published his book in 1989, this was a revolutionary as Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone or Richard Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class.  Third spaces today are seen as key drivers in successful places because of the social interaction they engender, the equality of status they convey upon citizens and the general good feelings (love if you will!) they create.  Yet less than a generation ago, these things were thought frivolous and ‘nice to have’ but not necessary.  How far we have come and we have pioneers like Dr. Oldenburg to thank for the great places we now enjoy.

Do You Love Your City?

What makes cities lovable? Why do we connect emotionally with some places and not others? And why does that matter? Author and consultant Peter Kageyama loves cities.  Big cities, small cities, villages and small towns.  He thinks he has found the “secret sauce” of what makes cities successful and it is those same people who love their cities. Those ordinary citizens who somehow go above and beyond typical levels of citizenship and do extraordinary things for their places.  Not because they paid to, but because of their desire to make things happen in their hometown.

Colorado Approves Ride Share

This is significant. Colorado approved statewide legislation to allow ride share programs such as Uber. These types of amenities are becoming “must haves” especially for the mobile, young professional crowd. These services are typically fought by traditional cab and limo companies but consumers obviously love them. The first state domino has tipped and you can expect many more to follow. Interesting how Colorado seems to be leading on lots of issues!

Full story here:

New York City Loves Bike Share

Much like the change of heart seen over pedestrian only Times Square, New Yorkers apparently love the one year old bike share program. Decried by some as ugly, dangerous and even totalitarian, the success of the program should embolden other communities to look at their own implementations.

Story here:


Water Slide in Bristol, UK

A giant water slide in the heart of Bristol, England is the brain child of artist Luke Jerram, previously known for his street pianos project. Some may recall that Grand Rapids, Michigan did a similar project in 2010spearheaded by Rob Bliss, who went on to produce the famous Grand Rapids Lip Dub in 2011.

Bristol Story:

DIY Traffic Calming

Here’s an example of taking matters into your own hands. DIY city making continues to expand as people become emboldened to make necessary changes in their own communities. Hopefully the official city makers take note that change can and will happen even without their support and permission. Cheers to those that break/bend the rules in order to get our communities to the place we actually want to be.

Story here:

City Trends – 2013 Part One

City Trends for 2013 – Part One: Positive Trends

A few weeks ago I was speaking at the New York Conference of Mayors.   As part of the gig I was asked to partake in a panel discussion at the end of the event and the topic wasurban trends we had been seeing over the past year.   It got me thinking about what I had been seeing over the past 12 months or so and to look forward to 2013.  Here is a synopsis of what I said:

Some Positive Trends

DIY Spirit – The urban do it yourself spirit shows no signs of abatting.  In fact it seems to be picking up steam as it expands beyond the expected urban laboratories of San Francisco, New York and Detroit into places like Raleigh, Dallas and Orlando.  Kickstarter and other online crowdsource funding platforms have fueled many of these projects as well as new models such as the Awesome Foundations that have made giving circles hip.  Cities have started to get into the crowd sourced funding as withnessed by the launch earlier this year of which is essentially Kickstarter for cities.

Backlash Against the Car – Studies are showing the young people are falling out of love with the car. Buyers between the age of 18 to 34 make up just 11% of the auto market, down from 17% in 2007,  and even drivers licenses issued to 20-24 year olds is down from 92% in 1983 to 81% in 2010.   To this age group the car is more encumbrance than symbol of freedom.  As they flock back to urban centers where parking spaces are scarce and parking fees are high, the bike, the scooter and even the skateboard become highly appealing.

And look at the current crop of cars that are targeted towards young people – small, stylish, hybrid or entirely electric.  Parking spaces that were designed for big sedans or even bigger SUVs suddenly seem like lots of wasted space.  When these smaller cars become the norm, what interesting things might we do with some of that reclaimed parking space?


Small is the New Big – A few years ago, I kept hearing “Green is the new black” as people and places got religion about issuesaround the environment and sustainability.  Every city started to ask if they should have more recycling and LEED certified public projects.  That is still a powerful and very important trend but the economic crisis of the past few years has slowed or curtailed many of those projects.  And in the wake of those fiscal challenges we are seeing a huge increase of smaller, faster and cheaper projects.   Crowdsourcing platforms (see above) have gotten small amounts of money into the hands of really creative people who can stretch a buckto unknown lengths.  Part of this is the lack of formal organizational structures to many of these projects.

Without official status, offices or full time employees, these groups are smaller, highly social and often passion projects that fill strange gaps.  For example, in Edmonton, Alberta a group called Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton has a bicycle based juicing machine that travels to peoples’ backyards when they have more fruit than they can use.  And the juicing machine was the result of a crowd-sourced fundraising effort!

Coming next – the negative trends.