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Binghamton dog park an experiment in community planning

Rebecca Goldstein Khan lives in a compact house in the Binghamton suburb of Vestal, with her husband and her dog, Lila.  Lila has been with Khan since she moved to Binghamton from Austin, TX.  Austin was great for Lila - the town is full of dog parks, where Lila could run off leash, and Khan could meet other dog owners.

But in Binghamton, both Lila and Kahn are out of luck because there's not a real dog park here.  So how do dog owners work out their pups and meet other dog people?  How do they get bouncy, excitable dogs like Lila tired out enough that they won't destroy the house while their owners are at work? 

They flout the law.

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/national/local-national-937477.mp3

Khan wouldn't tell the Innovation Trail where the park is, but she was more than happy to talk about an effort that she and other dog owners are undertaking to build a legal dog park.

It's taken years to find a space that would work for the dog park, but organizers think they've finally found the spot.  It's not pretty - it's built on a former city dump, and the land is pockmarked with craters.  The grassy lot is located behind a dilapidated shopping place, and used to be a dirt bike track (it's since moved to an indoor location).

The city is waiting for major funds to come through to dig up and renovate the entire area.  Because the ground here is literally settling, the site is difficult to effectively re-purpose, according to Tarik Abdulazim, head of housing planning and community development for the city of Binghamton.

The epiphany to let the space go to the dogs came through Binghamton Neighborhood Project's Design Your Own Park competition, a partnership between the city and community partners, which asked residents to imagine new uses for empty spaces in Binghamton.

"Folks had been mentioning a dog park," says Abdulazim. "I was out here once riding my bike along the trail, and I was like, 'this is absolutely ideal.' "

There are still hurdles to clear, according to Sarah Lister, a Binghamton University student who's working with the Neighborhood Project on what's being called "Bark Park."  The project is still waiting to find out from Binghamton whether the city will help with grading the land, and install water lines.

"After that," Lister says, "we're putting in the more fun stuff like ... trees and plants."  Lister hopes that members of the community will be able to do a lot of that work themselves, without relying on professionals.

"That's when people are working on a project together will feel a lot more ownership of it," she says, "and hopefully will want to be more involved."

Construction is not likely to start until the spring of 2011. In the meantime it still has to climb the steep hill of keeping people interested in the project during a long planning process.

Rebecca Khan is still in the game, but in the years since the project got started Lila has gotten old enough that she doesn't need a dog park anymore.

Former WRVO/Central New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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