The City has unveiled a new process for establishing dog parks in Winnipeg. The process allows interested citizens, community organizations, and elected officials to nominate new dog parks and apply for modifications to existing ones. WINDOG welcomes and fully supports the change.
The process for requesting a dog park and the application form has just been posted online at https://winnipeg.ca/publicworks/parksOpenSpace/OffLeashDogParks/OffLeashArea.stm.
At least two community groups are waiting in the wings with their nominations.
WINDOG was critical of the original off-leash area master plan that was unveiled last spring and lobbied for changes. The plan assumed the City would take the lead in identifying potential locations for permanent dog parks. There was no provision for citizens and community groups to champion them. The public was only allowed to bring forward proposals for small, temporary off-leash areas like those located in hockey pens. These are vetted through the boards of community centres, not the City of Winnipeg.
WINDOG argued that residents, community groups, and councillors needed to have a say because they know their neighbourhoods better than anyone. They know which underused patches of neighbourhood green space are used as “unofficial” off-leash areas and which ones might be considered for “official” status. WINDOG is pleased that City Council took our concern seriously and opened up the dog park nomination process to the public.
WINDOG applauds the extent to which public engagement will be encouraged when new off-leash parks are being considered, that Parks and Open Space and city councillors will work together to identify funding options, and that the status of each application will be posted online as it moves through various stages of the process.
But WINDOG’s president, Donna Henry, says there is still one outstanding concern – the complete lack of of tax-based capital funding for off-leash areas. The most desirable option is for Parks to have a dedicated capital budget. However, in March City Council deferred funding to upgrade existing dog parks and create new ones to 2020. The proposal to allocate $300.000 over six years will have to be vetted through next year’s budget review process.
Henry says Council’s failure to include a line for off-leash areas in this year’s budget sends a clear message that dog parks remain one of its lowest priorities. She say what Parks and Open Space needs is secure, tax-supported capital funding. There’s no security in a dog park budget that is deferred whenever it’s expedient to do so.
The City has not invested any tax-supported capital funding in even one of the the first eleven dog parks that it created in 1998. In the face of declining resources, it relies on volunteer stewardship groups to provide labour for park maintenance and raise money for park improvements.
The language in the new dog park application process makes it clear that the City will continue to count on community groups for in-kind and financial support.
In WINDOG’s view this is a mistake. Without secure, tax-supported capital funding, the City will continue to be challenged to improve existing dog parks to meet new OLAMP standards for services and amenities, and to create new ones to accommodate Winnipeg’s rapidly growing dog population.
The coalition also believes there’s a dark side to the request for in-kind or financial support. It favours wealthier areas of the city and disadvantages low-income neighbourhoods that desperately need dog parks. Dedicated tax-supported capital funding is the right solution.
WINDOG will be watching with interest what happens as dog park champions come forward with proposals for new dog parks and modification to existing ones.