This week I attended a public meeting on the proposal to offer off-leash hours for dogs in Joan Lorentz Park, the green space in front of the Cambridge Public Library and Rindge and Latin School, bounded by Broadway and Ellery Street. Stuart Dash (Director of Community Planning) facilitated the meeting, and Mark McCabe (Animal Control Commissioner) also addressed the group. About thirty Mid-Cambridge residents, including City Councilor Sam Seidel (a Maple Street resident and dog owner who frequents the park), turned out to share their opinions. Most of those attending were in favor of the proposal, though a few non-dog-owners voiced strong opposition.
Cambridge is shaped a bit like an hourglass, and residents of Mid-Cambridge (the trapezoidal torso bounded by Broadway, Peabody, Kirkland, Hampshire and Prospect Streets) often feel the squeeze, as much of the city’s cross-town traffic flows through this congested mixed-use neighborhood. As Mr. Dash noted, Mid-Cambridge is under-served in terms of public parks, and its limited open space is shared, at times uneasily, by a very broad spectrum of users. Mr. Dash also noted that while the city has achieved its initial goal of distributing designated off-leash areas across the city’s four quadrants, none of the existing locations (see map on page 2 the city’s off-leash brochure) is located within walking distance of Mid-Cambridge. A large number of owners of licensed dogs live within a quarter-mile of Lorentz Park (see map; red dots represent addresses of licensed dog owners in 2008), and Lorentz Park is the largest green space available for the Mid-Cambridge canine community to congregate.
A prior meeting on introducing off-leash hours in Lorentz Park was held last May, and this week’s meeting followed a mailing inviting all area residents (non-dog- owners included) to express their views on the matter. Public comments from the meeting, as well as those submitted by e-mail, will be forwarded to the City Manager and the City Council for review.
If approved, off-leash hours in Lorentz Park would begin next spring. No physical changes to the park’s configuration are under consideration (e.g. no fencing to keep dogs from running onto the busy streets bordering the park, and no enclosure to separate the off-leash area from pedestrian paths). The off-leash hours would likely run from about 6:00 to 7:30 a.m. (Classes at CRLS begin at 8:00 a.m., and on school days foot traffic through the park becomes heavy at about 7:45 a.m. The Library opens at 9:00 a.m. every day except Sunday, when it opens at 1:00 p.m.)
Both Mr. Dash and Mr. McCabe stressed that if off-leash hours are approved for Lorentz Park, dog owners must respect the designated hours and keep their dogs leashed at all other times out of respect for other park users (picnickers, sunbathers, children playing, pedestrians, etc.). As always, owners are responsible for keeping their dogs under visual and voice control at all times and for cleaning up after their dogs. Mr. Dash also warned dog owners that vigorous and extended games of fetch can quickly tear up a field, especially if the grass is wet. He asked owners to be mindful that some people are afraid of dogs, whether on or off-leash.
Bottom line: In such a densely populated urban area, a great deal of cooperation and mutual respect will be needed to make even limited off-leash hours in Lorentz Park a success. Most people at the meeting, including some abutters who do not own dogs, were confident that such cooperation is possible, but a vocal minority of non-dog-owners remained skeptical despite the owners’ assurances they would follow the rules and behave responsibly.
Want to weigh in? If you missed the meeting and would like to express your opinion on off-leash hours in Joan Lorentz Park, you may e-mail Taha Jennings, the neighborhood planner in Community Development, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Historical note: A plaque at the park’s entrance on the corner of Broadway and Ellery Street informs visitors that Joan Lorentz, who died in 1997, was a teacher and social justice activist. As president and founder of the Mid-Cambridge Neighborhood Association, she was instrumental in enlarging and redesigning the park when the original Latin School building on the corner of Ellery Street was demolished in the late 1970s. The Library’s beautiful new 72,600 s.f. building, which opened in late 2009, did not significantly reduce the park’s open space because surface parking adjacent to the original 1898 Library building was moved underground