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Wandering Pets, Happy Cities

Posted on 17 April 2014

The long weekend is (nearly) here. Last weekend we got a start on prepping our yard for the summer, which included an hour plus of cleaning up after those two dogs in the picture up there. It also involved repairing our cat jail from the weight of winter, but it was a pretty minimal task: just going around and angling it upwards again. If you’re looking for a way to keep cats in your yard, this seems to be effective.

I get why people don’t want pets wandering around, but with the right group of people it can certainly help create a bit more of bond between strangers. When I was growing up, the neighbours across the street from us had a dog who could leap over their fence in a single bound. She only did this so she could go for walks with us, and eventually she became a joint dog with both families caring for her.

More recently, my parents have had a neighbourhood cat decide it lives with them part-time. They are not sure where it comes from, but it is definitely cared for- it just apparently likes to come over in the morning and get some extra pets. Eventually they’ll find out where it lives, and that will be how the ice is broken between them.

There are so many people I only know in the context of the dogs I see them walking in local parks, to the point that if we see each other say, grocery shopping, we identify each other by our dogs names. But it turns out these low-level bonds are an important part of creating happy cities. Who says? Charles Montgomery, the author of Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban DesignI heard him on this episode of Tapestry a few weeks ago, and immediately put his book on my reading list.


At one point in the interview, he talks about what happened to him when he started walking around more and bumping into neighbours:

“Not having deep conversations, just ‘hello, how are you?’ It turns out these superficial conversations are really good for well-being. They’re much easier than the conversations we have with fellow employees and family sometimes.”

He goes much deeper into this concept in the book, but anecdotally I’ve definitely found it to be true. Stopping for a chat with someone while I bike, having brief conversations with the panhandlers near where I work, and knowing my neighbours in the contexts of their dogs have all added to a sense of connection and belonging in the spaces I spend my time.

Filed under: cities

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