Dog Parks – The Original Social Network?

David Landis, trusty LCI President, here with my thought for the day.

I fondly remember my very first trip to Italy back in 1983. Landing in Venice (my first trip outside the United States ever) was like a jolt. What a difference from the American culture I knew. It wasn’t just the delicious food, the amazing art, the local wines that tasted like they were priceless or the historical architecture. It was – first and foremost – about the people.

I think we all would love to be Italian on some level – aren’t they the most convivial, passionate and social of all? And the most emblematic of their good nature was the 5 p.m. passeggiata – the daily walk around the piazza where you mingle and socialize with friends and neighbors. I was always touched at how considerate Italians were. I attributed it not just to their good nature, but to the fact that part of their daily ritual includes this ongoing meeting of people – no matter what your mood.

Fast forward to 1993, San Francisco. We decided to get a dog, Shasta – and then a year later, another dog, Whitney (American Eskimo dogs named for the white-capped California mountains). Daily walks to the dog park became a part of our habit and – lo and behold – it occurred to me that what the piazza is to Italy, the dog park is to America.

Day in, day out, you have to mingle with your neighbors in the park. Even if you don’t like the conservative flag-waver or the dottery old geezer or the Chinese woman who doesn’t speak a word of English – you have to figure out a way to be courteous. It’s called living in society and instead of getting in our single-occupancy vehicles and detaching ourselves from our fellow man (and woman), we are forced to do what makes us human: relate socially every day.

So why am I writing about this now? It occurred to me over lunch that the Italian piazza – and the American dog park – are the great precursors of that monumental new movement of social media. Social networks are all the rage now – Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace.com, Teebeedee.com – you name it, there’s a social network for everyone. And they do bring us together. With one great exception. It’s only virtual. And there’s nothing to beat firsthand human contact.

I still vote for the dog park. Or better yet, the Italian piazza.

Here is my list of Buzzworthy dog parks in San Francisco:

1. Alta Plaza Park – where you’ll see Shasta & Whitney walked every day, 3 times a day. With beautiful views of San Francisco Bay and downtown (and only a block from trendy Fillmore St.), it can’t be beat. (Steiner St./Jackson St.) –

http://www.yelp.com/biz/alta-plaza-park-san-francisco

2. Alamo Square – Shasta’s first dog park, with the picture-postcard view of San Francisco’s famous Victorians and the skyline behind. (Steiner St./Hayes St.)

http://www.yelp.com/biz/alamo-square-san-francisco

3. Crissy Field – a great place to take out-of-towners. Right on the beach, with a drop-dead gorgeous view of the Golden Gate Bridge. But watch out if you’re dog is a swimmer, you’ll be mopping him up for days. (Marina Blvd at the north end of San Francisco)

http://www.parksconservancy.org/our_work/crissy/

4. Union Square – the great intersection of humanity — and San Francisco’s own version of Rodeo Drive, with all the best shopping and dining. Plus, you can sit outside with your pooch and have lunch Italian-style at Emporio Rulli. (Geary St./Powell St.) http://www.unionsquaresf.net/

5. Fort Funston – At this great park, you can walk you dog and see dozens of hang gliders at the same time. The coastside venue gives you a panoramic cliffside view of the Pacific Ocean, but watch out for your deviant dog: that first step is a doozy! (Great Highway near Sloat Blvd.)

http://www.fortfunstondog.org/

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9 Comments

  1. Scott, HMA Public Relations Reply

    I think Cinder might get along just fine with Shasta and Whitney — although she’s used to swimming as much as being at the park. And she’s more into chasing and fetching thrown objects than being pals with other dogs. But she’s friendly. See you in Boston.

  2. John Reply

    David, it was inevitable that you would get into blogging – you’ve been doing it offline and in person for your whole career. I love your take on social media. And being virtual makes it a pale imitation of the real thing. Keep the piazzas alive!

  3. jane oppenheim Reply

    I loved this blog! If only Denver had good and convenient dog parks. I would be there every day. They are like small town centers of yesteryear. Everyone is happy when they are with their doggies, so the sociability levels are off the scale!!!

  4. Alessandra Reply

    Er…let me put you in the picture… Italian people are definitely social by definition but even though Italy is not such a big country there are a lot of differences among Venice and Milan, i.e. or Bellagio (on the Como Lake) and Nicosia (a small village of Sicily). I’d not be surprised if, in the last years, the 5 p.m. passeggiata mood has moved to San Francisco 🙂 To give you an example, I can hardly meet (or even recognize sometime) my own neighbours although I live in a 10-flat building. I don’t want to let you down, David, but the magic you have admirably described is very difficult to find in Milan or in other urban centres. Venice is so peculiar indeed. No cars moving along, only gondolas and pedestrians. Nowadays the appetizers fashion has replaced the piazza feel. People are used to meeting after work and drinking something together nibbling cool pasta, chips and savouries in some glamorous place. Small villages however…are far cry from it.
    Social networking tools are constantly suggesting new friends based on algorithms. But if you want to hold tight your old friends you can’t allow that a quick Facebook birthday greeting replaces phone calls. I communicate with a lot more people, a lot more often. But the quality of that communication can be lacking. It just isn’t the same as a long phone call or a visit.

  5. david Reply

    Alessandra:

    Thanks for the on-target information from our real-life Italian – someone born in Italy and continuing to live and work there. And I look forward to seeing you in person (not via email) in Boston. Cheers, David

  6. John Mallen Reply

    We love the fenced in dog runs in New York City. There are special times in the morning and evenings where in specified areas of parks the dogs are let free to romp — under the watchful eye of their owners, of course — owners like those in San Francisco who magically transform from NY insular to social beings.

    It even happens on the street. David, your post reminds me of fond memory of being stopped by a large, muscular man, probably in his early 60s, as I was walking our young Golden Retriever along Third Ave. The man stopped and started talking about Hudson, our pup, saying he looked exactly like King, also a Golden, and the most decorated dog in New York City. King found the last living survivor in the World Trade Center rubble. Then this burly, NY Fire Department retiree, with tears flowing, pulled out a photo of King. His rescue dog had died of cancer.

    It was the first time I realized that the social networking that accompanies dog-walking is not only that of meeting new people, but that people who are connected in a unique way, because they also share this deep affection and bonding, some say even love, for their canine friends. On that afternoon, I was a relatively new dog owner. I now “get it.” Our Hudson has terminal cancer.

    Maybe some day in the not too distant future, when he is gone, I’ll stop some stranger and take out Hudson’s photo. Something you cannot do on the Internet. You need real-world neighborhood or a dog park populated by other “dog people.”

  7. Nancy Fox Reply

    David_Dogs_Delight. Inevitable companions. The canines, our companions, have their own take on these walks, and sometimes it appears that they can smell their real pals (though they do it in a unique way we wouldn’t want to replicate.) We two leggeds have to figure it out through other senses, with a lot more thought involved, still delighting in the sensation that we do have a mammalian community who shares four-legged companionship with our hearts.

    Similar dog-park pals exist all over Marin— folks with dissimilar interests, but common adoration for the “D” word. How lucky we are that they think we are the “cat’s meow” but want to curl up with us anyway.

  8. Anne Buchanan Reply

    Dogs. They make life more civlized. Isn’t it amazing that canines can make our lives more…humane? More human?

    Come visit our offices, where we have our own little dog park on-site. Being a dog-friendly workplace, you can always find at least one dog resident during the day.

    Interestingly, being dog-friendly has been a huge distinguisher for us in our marketplace. Most of our clients and prospects love visting the office and getting to know the canines; though we always offer to remove dogs from the office before clients or prospects arrive, no one has ever requested that.

  9. david Reply

    Anne:

    Good thinking – and did I mention, I’ve even gotten business from the dog park? Although one day when Shasta was a puppy, he chased Bob Fisher (head of The Gap)’s lovely puppy out of the park and into the street. Of course, this was when we were representing Old Navy. We all had a good laugh and no one was hurt, thank God (or thank Dog!). Cheers, David