“There May Be Trouble Ahead”
Historically there is a plethora of quantitative and qualitative measurements utilized by urban planners, law enforcement and hands-on community residents to gauge the quality of life.
The best observers to notice the subtle changes in a neighborhood’s character are those intimately connected to the neighborhood’s vibe, specifically dog walkers, whether they be the owners or hired dog walkers. They are in the envious position twice daily to witness and assess the quiet changes that are missed by most other residents caught up in their own hustle & bustle.
I call my newly created and highly predictive urban security methodology the Dog Walker Index (DWI) that literally gets the scoop on the poop. The DWI is a methodology that fuses man and man’s best friend (or woman and her best canine friend & guardian) that enhances the vintage 1990s broken windows methodology because the additional observer is the canine himself whose paws on the ground senses are far keener and sophisticated than their master’s.
Small and seemingly inconsequential dynamics form new larger patterns and presage the measurable quantifiable societal changes. A handful of the visual and behavioral changes in the neighborhood are:
· Empty billboards or those with aging ads that are no longer relevant that haven’t been changed.
· Litter: Consistently more litter and types of litter on the sidewalks and in the gutters, and whether this change is the result of fewer garbage receptacles and/or fewer pick-ups?
· Wild weeds growing uncontrollably in front of occupied residences and active businesses which were previously cut and maintained.
· Graffiti the type messages (political or personal), location with respect to type buildings (residential, businesses and/or governmental) and street (side street or main street).
· Store closures whether a recent arrival within last 2-4 years or a long-term fixture in the community. Furthermore the type of business: restaurant, café, grocery store, fashion store, etc. and their market share in their respective fields. If there is an overwhelming number of cafes then the demise of a handful is no big deal and attributable to a normal down economic cycle. However the demise of almost all grocery stores is a call for concern.
· Social interaction - The comfort level of social interaction with the decrease in cordial encounters such as friendly vs brusque greetings, quick tempers, long silences, etc. amongst residents.
Consummate Canine Sense
Dogs are the proverbial canary in the coal mine who literally have their paws on the urban pulse. Adjusting for their particular breed and personalities, one can discern potential shifts in the dynamics of a community through their dog as follows:
· Sudden and consistent behavioral change - unusual aggressiveness or fear towards new people or other dogs.
· Reluctance to walk down particular streets – dangers unseen.
· Heightened nervousness when indoors, appetite changes, sleeplessness, etc.
· Is frequently in a rush to return home.
· Does not want to walk far from home.
· Strongly prefers to take detours vs usual routes.
· A change in canine demographics in which there are more security-type dogs rather than fuzzy, wuzzy companion breeds.
Canines and other animals can feel the change in vibrations and warn us if we pay close attention to their behavioral changes. The dog walker’s twice daily constitutional is an oxymoron because the pace is a stroll interspersed with unexpected stops. It’s almost a role-reversal because often it’s the dog that’s setting the pace and walking the human.
This DWI paws on the ground methodology is undoubtedly an art almost to the point of forcing one to become a dog whisperer. A survey with perceptively worded questions of various dog walkers is an excellent start to best extract useful information. Furthermore one must consider that dog walkers live in different parts of the neighborhood and even within the same area taking varying paths. And let’s not forget that each dog walker’s perspectives and priorities are different. While one dog walker has a hissy-fit about litter another is more concerned with the overgrowth that promotes nesting by rodents.
The breed and purpose of dog must be considered. To the dog walker who handles (or tries to) Bruno, the big half-wolf security dog, is more business-oriented and views walking the dog a chore with a “hurry up and let’s get this over with” mindset. The last thing this dog walker wants is for Bruno to get loose, rip someone’s arm off and get sued.
On the other hand Fluffy, the standard issue, friendly, companion dog is more akin to a literal walk in the park, hanging out and basking in the glow of attention & adoration from his paparazzi admirers.
Finally the DWI cannot be universally applied to compare different neighborhoods because each neighborhood has its distinct make-up. What’s historically normal in one neighborhood is a red flag aberration in another.
This is how real life intel is performed - the unglamorous, down & dirty gathering of snippets and fragments when woven together provide amazingly useful data and to what extent it corresponds to, aligns with and supplements scientific data. The initial occurrences of urban decay does not manifest with a spectacular event rather through imperceptible breakdowns which create microscopic fissures.
Importantly one must not forget that unlike normal economic boom & bust cycles, Covid-19 is an extreme outlier event without precedent in a globalized world. Everyone knows that a post-pandemic world after mass inoculations will not be a return to a pre-pandemic world so any predictive speculation is plausible. But by utilizing this DWI canine methodology can provide an early warning system to prepare for the near-future.
[Originally published 21 September 2020]
Copyright 2020 Cerulean Council LLC
The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that provides prescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on geopolitical dynamics and global urban security.