John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
One former dog-walker has set out to map the city’s varying degrees of doggy density.
It’s often claimed that in New York you’re never less than six feet from a rat. But what about a dog—is it always a matter of taking a few paces to pat a tongue-lolling, tail-wagging good boy?
In many parts of the city, that certainly seems the case. “I have often thought that my neighborhood had to be disproportionately overpopulated with dogs,” says the East Village’s Nate Rattner. “At times it feels like the streets are just dominated by them.”
So Rattner, a 24-year-old tech worker and former professional dog-walker, conducted an experiment to test his suspicion of living in the center of the pooch universe. Inspired by WNYC’s 2013 “Dogs of NYC” project, he dove into the extensive public database of licensed dogs (New Yorkers are required to license their hounds, though only about a fifth do) and created a map of dog densities for ZIP codes in every borough. “While a record of New York dogs may not be the most impactful or powerful public database available, it may be the most fun one,” he says.
The results jolted him. The East Village isn’t even in the top 30 most dog-intensive neighborhoods. “It turns out there are other residents sidestepping leashes and droppings more frequently than I am.” A vast furbelt extends across southern Staten Island, for instance, perhaps because people there have something called “yards.” There’s also a concentrated zone of dogginess in the northeast Bronx. But Manhattan does claim 9 of the 10 top dog-infested ZIPs. Brooklyn doesn’t show up until number 24 and Queens makes its first appearance at 27. “If you hate dogs, get out of Manhattan.”
A couple things might explain the island’s canine fecundity, starting with a possible correlation between wealth and pet ownership. “If you look at the top ZIP codes most densely populated by dogs, they are in neighborhoods across downtown Manhattan, the Upper West and Upper East sides, Greenwich Village, and Chelsea,” Rattner says. “These are pricey places to live and, in some cases, are among America's most-expensive ZIP codes. Owning a dog is expensive, and it’s not an affordable luxury to everyone in the city.”
As to 10006, the tiny ZIP right around One World Trade Center with the highest-overall density of dogs (one for every three humans), Rattner has a theory about that, too.
“I’d guess it has to do with the possible income to ownership correlation, and possibly the fact that 10006 is close to both the Hudson and East River, Battery Park, and a few smaller green spaces,” he says. “It looks like there are dog runs on both rivers within a 15 minute walk. The ZIP with the highest dog density may be very well situated geographically for taking pets out for walks.”