Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Dog walkers as public characters

Via Ezra Klein, I noticed this piece on the civic benefits of dog ownership:

[D]og owners are some of the only regularly walking people in a community — many neighborhoods outside of the inner core of Washington are dominated by automobiles and there is relatively little positive pedestrian activity on often empty sidewalks.

Dog walkers contribute positive activity not just to streets and sidewalks but to parks. It’s very easy for a park to devolve into a dangerous place. One technique for people committed to disorder to keep people (especially families and children generally) out of parks is to break a lot of bottles — broken glass keeps a park free of children, making it easier to conduct illicit business and activities.

The piece reminds me of Jane Jacobs‘ argument about the value of “public characters”– or as they were called on Sesame Street, the people that you meet when you’re walking down the street each day.

Should we also think of dogs (or other animals) as public characters as well? Are there certain kinds of animal ownership that you see more of in well-functioning neighborhoods?

[To the tune of The Mops, “Asamade Matenai,” from the album Love, Peace & Poetry: Japanese Psychedelic Music (a 1-star song, imo).]


  1. “Who are the people in your neighborhood? They’re the people that you meet–when you’re walking down the street–the people that you meet each day!” That is SO Mr. Rogers.

    I think of dogs and smaller children in the same category, and they’re definitely public characters. Sometimes they’re the ones whose names I may know, when I’m completely unacquainted with their accompanying adults. As an at-home parent, I get out and about in the neighborhood, and I assure you there’s an entire world of small-creature caretakers that all hit the same parks at the same times. I was quite unaware of this reality when I had regular work hours.

    Interestingly, we have a nascent gang of skaters (in the 8-11 year range) in our neighborhood who look tough, but turn out to be rather pleasant and respectful people when approached by an adult. I find that telling my toddler about the difference between ollies and nollies breaks the ice as well.

  2. It's totally Sesame Street– check out

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