Of Dogs and Men: The Making of Spatial Boundaries in a Gentrifying Neighborhood

Sylvie Tissot

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Tissot, S. (1). Of Dogs and Men: The Making of Spatial Boundaries in a Gentrifying Neighborhood. City & Community, 10(3), 265–284. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-6040.2011.01377.x

class , discursive production , distinction , diversity , dog park , dog run , Dogs , gentrification , habitus , public space

This article examines the role of animals in the processes of social inclusion and exclusion in a gentrifying neighborhood. Residents who move into mixed-income, inner-city neighborhoods generally express a taste for diversity while simultaneously attempting to distance themselves from “undesirables.” Dogs allow newcomers to manage these tensions. The urge to control public spaces leads to the creation of new and quasi-exclusionary places, such as dog runs. At the same time, in the process of creating them, residents produce the neighborhood's image as a “diverse community.” Based on fieldwork conducted in a neighborhood of a large city in the northeastern United States, the author uses a wide range of discourse settings and genres to demonstrate that discursive production is part-and-parcel of the process of making places.

Main finding
Dog ownership and dog-related walking, sociability, and economic consumption allows middle-class residents in gentrifying areas to exclude others from public space. The dog run studied is highly stratified, with low-income and non-white dog owners almost never present. However, the dog run is inclusive in regards to sexual orientation, with a significant number of gay men using the dog run to openly meet and date. Dog ownership is celebrated as a new form of diversity in gentrifying neighborhoods and as an addition to the rich, poor, gay, heterosexual, White, Hispanic, and African American residents. By valuing dog-friendly neighborhoods, gentrifiers can claim they value ‘diversity.’ This allows gentrifiers to draw social and spatial boundaries while still praising the values of openness and diversity. Gentrifying urban neighborhoods have different boundaries than the traditional suburban model which emphasizes geographic segregation and homogeneity. Though diversity implies interpersonal relationships and interactions in public space, in gentrified public spaces this social life is restricted to separate peer groups. Diversity in this context means proximity to “others,” with relationships not questioning the inequalities that exist.

Description of method used in the article
The author used interviews, observations, a survey, and archival sources, including information from the neighborhood association’s website and documents, a user guide for the dog run, technical documents, agendas, letters to city officials, and other sources to research the changes in civic engagement in an anonymized gentrifying US neighborhood from the 1960s to the present. While the research began focused on neighborhood associations, as the dog run issue became clear the author systematically introduced the topic to interviews. In-depth interviews were conducted with 77 members of various local groups and neighborhood associations. The author also lived in the neighborhood for 13 months, integrating themselves in the social life of the interviewees, and interacting residents further. In order to supplement the qualitative data, the author conducted a five-day survey at the dog run. A questionnaire was given out at various times of the day and asked about the dog owners’ age, sex, occupation, income, marital status, race, sexual orientation, and dogs’ names, breeds, and expenses.

Of practical use

Organising categories