Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dog Wars: The Battle of Fort Washington

Today this blog ventures for the first time into the Holy Trinity of neighborhood blog flame wars: kids, dogs and parking. No issues seem to inspire the same ruthless, neighbor-versus-neighbor carnage as these. For those in C-port, the Fort Washington/ Dog Park issue is nothing new, especially to those familiar with the Friends of Fort Washington or with city dog park politics.

New events, however, have brought it back to the forefront. First, the temporary chain-link fencing around Fort Washington has finally come down, and indications are that the park will reopen in August (though that date has already been delayed several times). Now, the Pacific Street Park's dedicated dog run is under reconstruction. While grateful for the temporary adjacent site, dog owners are reminded of how precarious is the status of the one dedicated dog run in our portion of the dense city. A new bulletin posted there urges fellow dog owners to delve into the reopening of Fort Washington by contacting the City's Area 5 Neighborhood Planner, Taha Jennings.

Between these recent events, old wounds resurfaced, originally inflicted on, among others, and Revolutionary history blog Boston 1775. The latter includes this thoughtful post, followed by an amazing back-and-forth in the comments that demonstrates how vitriolic the dog park issue gets, even among non-dog-owner history buff types. The author of the post covers most of the issues in detail, so I won't rehash them here. It's well worth a read.

[Full disclosure: I do "have a dog in this fight" -- I live just a few blocks from the park, I have a dog that I walk throughout the neighborhood frequently. It should be unnecessary, but I'll add that yes, we clean up after our dog, keep him on leash/under control/not barking. I also happen to be a big city park fan and love our little 'hood's historical narrative, and I know how torn up the heavily utilized Pacific Street park gets, so I clearly see both sides here.]

Folks like me who arrived in the neighborhood in the past few years might need a brief primer on the Fort's history, especially since it has mostly been closed for the past year. The park's current state is a little misleading. It is without a doubt a fascinating historic site, but one bearing little resemblance to the original half-moon shaped, Revolutionary-era battery. The cannons and fence are all part of a Victorian-era reconstruction when the state acquired the site in the mid-19th century. The 2D sculptural art is a 1987 installation.

Here's a short background on the park itself, via

The half-moon fortifications at Fort Washington Park date back to 1775. Fearing an attack from the Charles River, General George Washington ordered a series of these fortifications built along the banks of the river. Once the war ended, all the other fortifications were destroyed in the course of development, but Fort Washington stood until 1857, when it was bought by the state and restored. At this time, 3 cannons from Fort Warren in Boston Harbor were brought to the site, and a grand granite-and-iron fence was installed, designed by John R. Hall. No battles were fought at this site, and no soldiers died.

Withholding most of my own opinions here, I think it's pretty obvious that Fort Washington is pretty underutilized as a public park and as an important pedestrian connection (via Annis Crossing). I don't envy the City Planning folks who need to sort out the best use for the park, but here's hoping it's resolved soon.

UPDATE: Apparently, someone calling themselves "Cambridgeport Neighborhood" forcibly reopened the park with bolt cutters over Independence Day. This blog's name and the perp's are coincidental, which is unfortunate. More gasoline on the fire.

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