Binary Man: Kids or Dogs?
Binary Man has come to our planet to settle disputes, solve problems and make life better. Got an issue for him? Post it below or e-mail him.
Even as it slashes library hours and debates a long menu of service cuts, the D.C. government proposes to spend $350,000 to build a recreation area--for dogs. The Dog Exercise Area to be constructed next to the McLean Gardens condo complex in Northwest is part of a $1 million program to set up dog parks throughout the city.
The McLean Gardens dog facility would take up 10 percent of the space in Newark Street Park; the children's playground in the same park covers nine percent of the land there.
Dog lovers in one neighborhood after another have been agitating for these facilities for years, and they've set up well-organized volunteer groups to lobby for improvements, keep the parks clean and comply with the city's regulations.
But even before the recession started pushing local governments into a round of harsh cost-cutting, some neighbors of the proposed dog parks dared to raise their voices against the politically-connected dog lovers, wondering whether public dollars really ought to be invested in dog recreation--especially in a city where schools, parks, libraries and other facilities for children are so desperately in need of basic maintenance and programming.
The District's plan for dog parks involves more than just cordoning off a plot of land for dogs and their owners; the recreation areas are surprisingly expensive cloisters built on special "dog exercise surfaces" made of six inches of compacted stone.
Binary Man never thought it would be necessary to weight the interests of dogs versus that of children, but yes, it has come to this. Across the country, communities have clashed over the allocation of money for dog facilities. The prospect of spending public money on dogs consistently raises hackles among those fighting for dollars for children. Some dog lovers in turn argue that childless people who form close relationships with their pets deserve a cut of public resources.
Opponents of dog parks throw everything they can at the dog folks. In McLean Gardens, the opposition is led by members of the neighborhood's Community Garden Association, who argue that dog parks are incompatible with organic gardening or with the kids' playground. "The $350,000 price tag spent on what is being described as the Taj Mahal of dog parks is stunning," said Linda Blount Berry, vice president of the association, in a press statement. The gardeners note that they have never received any financial support from the city, but rather, have pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money into creating a space for neighbors to grow their own vegetables.
But even without a specific event to force a confrontation, the very notion of setting aside public land for animals is galling to many parents, children and other taxpayers. Even in San Francisco, where dogs outnumber children, Mayor Gavin Newsom recently dared to opine that he'd sooner try to solve the city's homeless problem than devote precious resources to dog facilities.
Binary Man freely concedes that the very concept of having a pet mystifies him. But his many years of experience hearing from readers who do love animals has persuaded him that there is some elemental emotional bond that can develop between man and dog. (Weingarten believes Binary Man's attitude toward animals is evidence that The Man is significantly less than human.)
That said, no matter how emotionally important and useful that relationship can be, the human-animal bond cannot stake a claim to public resources that is even in the same ballpark as the public interest in fostering healthful and educational upbringings for children. From a purely utilitarian perspective, children are future taxpayers; they are the reason for a society or political entity to seek to advance itself. Investment in their futures pays off. Dollars spent on schools, playgrounds, child welfare programs, libraries and so on bring about measurable reductions in the spending that will be necessary down the road on prisons, courts, cops, addiction programs and the like.
But it's also true that governments routinely blow giant piles of money on all sorts of programs that have nothing whatever to do with improving the future. For example, granite curbs, Christmas decorations, or "team-building" retreats.
So allocating some money to give citizens a place to play with their pets is not the end of the world. It should, however, be recognized for what it is: A frill, a luxury, a sign that we live in a very affluent society. And to the extent that the economic collapse is forcing us to confront the possibility of a lower standard of living, this is anything but the time to spend money on dog parks.
Government spending involves making choices and setting priorities. As crass as the dogs vs. children dichotomy may sound, it is an accurate depiction of one of the choices that must be made. And the answer is clear: Children.
Ok, let's hear what you think--Binary Man is ready for the onslaught (so he thinks).
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