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The name game: Pawplar Park Dog Town

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Council for the most part accepted the staff recommendation, Monday, to name the new dog park at the south end of town the rather cumbersome "Pawplar Park - Dog Town."

Councillor Mike Edwards - who was the major driving force behind the creation of this park - and I were the only two to vote against the naming. If the guy who basically led the efforts to get a dog park doesn't like it, that should say something. Unfortunately, it didn't say anything to the rest of council.

I find the name "Pawplar" not only artificial and uninviting, but cloyingly cute. It reflects nothing of this community's heritage or history, nor does it honour any person or group for their efforts on behalf of or in the service of this community. It's one of those names I expect to see on little table-top buildings for sale in cottage craft stores. Or on a painting of dogs playing poker.

Worse, from my perspective, was the way the name was chosen. If it had been a public suggestion, I would not have been as upset by the choice. But it wasn't - or rather it wasn't fully a public suggestion. We ended up with a 'Frankenstein' name - something cobbled together from public submissions and the naming committee's own sense of appropriateness or humour.

The public was invited to submit suggestions for names. Although this was a rare chance for public input this term (albeit on something of little consequence - not, say, the creation of an electoral ward system or anything else important) we received a mere twelve of them:
  • Barker Park
  • Dog Town
  • The Collingwood Dogyard
  • Triple P (Popular Pooch Park)
  • Happy Tails Acres
  • Freedom Acres
  • Wagging Tails Park
  • Romping Range Park
  • Roving Free Park
  • Friendship Park
  • Happiness Park
  • Popular Dog Park
  • PAW-lingwood Park
Of which only the first recognized suggestion an individual (and that only coincidentally, since it was probably meant as a cute name too, without reference to the former mayor of that name). Most of the rest of the submissions I consider in the same saccharine category as the chosen name: unrelated to anything that represents this town, its people or its future.

I would have called for more submissions, this time asking people to come up with a name of an individual or group that has contributed to the wellbeing of the community. Or the wellbeing of dogs. How about a local veterinarian? Or a hero from the Georgian Bay Animal Rescue? Wouldn't that be more appropriate?

But the naming committee - on which there is no council representation (something I have long wanted but have not been able to get) - met and made up a name instead:

The Naming Committee met on Thursday, May 21, 2009 to review the submissions and provide a recommendation to Council. The Committee agreed upon the name “Dog Town not only because of the rationale provided, but to recognize our youth within the community” (attached as Appendix A). The Committee would also like to incorporate the efforts of the Dog Park Adhoc (sic) Committee. The Committee recommendation, including some public submissions, incorporated a play of words associated with its location in an effort to recognize its proximity to the Poplar Sideroad. In an attempt to not confuse the proper spelling of the road the parks located, the Committee agreed upon “Pawplar Park” which plays off of Poplar Sideroad. The committee also agreed to merge the two agreed upon names by having it read “Pawplar Park “Dog Town””.

How "Dog Town" recognizes our community's youth is beyond me. Is the committee associating youth with dogs? Or that the town has 'gone to the dogs' because of its youth? I don't know.

We have a naming policy for town parks, buildings and so on. It allows the naming committee to come up with its own names - which I realize was probably a mistake because it allows for personalities to come into play. I believe the committee would be more objective and neutral if it was not permitted to suggest its own name ideas.

The policy says:
  • Requirement for a name shall be submitted to the Naming Committee through the Town Clerk.
  • The Naming Committee shall advertise and solicit names from the public for consideration. Name recommendations provided by the public should include the following:
    • Background information concerning the rationale for consideration of the request;
    • Biographical information if named after an organization or individual; and
    • Documentation including letters from organizations and individuals providing substantial support for the request.
  • The Clerk’s office will forward the recommended names and supporting documentation to the Naming Committee.
  • The Naming Committee will review all name submissions and may also suggest names if not already provided.
  • The Naming Committee shall conduct a comprehensive search of the recommended names to ensure the names/words are not sensitive to other interpretations in other languages.
  • The Naming Committee shall prepare a report of names and recommendations for Council’s consideration.
  • Council will discuss in camera any names of recognition of an individual prior to discussing with the individual or next of kin.
  • Council will have final decision of all names.
  • Names that are not decided upon by Council will go on the Reserve List or used at the discretion of Council when required.
  • Names will be adopted by Resolution or By-law.
Further, the policy clearly states:

Names that will be considered must significantly meet at least two of the following criteria and include supporting biographical information:

  • Past or present resident of the Town of Collingwood
  • The individual/organization must have demonstrated outstanding achievements, contributions or accomplishments to enrich the Town of Collingwood.
  • Demonstrated activity of a volunteer nature.
  • Must possess sound moral and social character.
  • Donated a substantial amount to the project.
Names approved by Council shall provide an easy and recognizable reference to the Town’s citizens of municipal facilities, open spaces, parks and cultural features.

Perhaps I missed something, but where would a cutesy name like "Pawplar Park" fit within these criteria? Or ANY of them?

Sure it's a weak pun on "Poplar" but it is not historical. Nor does it contribute anything to the community except to suggest someone may be subject to fits of giddiness when in a committee meeting. Perhaps a window should have been opened to let in more oxygen.

The final part of the staff report includes what must surely be a pointless exercise: sustainability considerations. This inclusion concerns me because sustainability is such an important issue that I cringe to see it used in such a frivolous circumstance. I'm afraid it could become as pointless as the inclusion of Vision 2020 considerations became in past reports to previous councils. These considerations are supposed to mean something - not just be perfunctory and applied to everything and anything. Does ANYONE really think there is some sustainability issue in the naming of a dog park?

Read the questions. Out of six, all but one is answered "no." The single yes is "regulatory compliance." I'm pretty sure the sustainability committee (on which I sit) didn't mean to have this form used like this. There isn't even a regulatory requirement that a dog park be named. It's a choice to do so. But it gets a "yes" anyway.

The chosen name scores an amazing eight points out of a possible nine points - six alone for being a regulatory requirement (it isn't) and two for "Positive impacts on sustainability pillars." Which is odd because the answer to every one of those four questions was "no." All those negatives somehow magically translate into a positive plus-two score. Must be the New Math because every time I add four zeroes together I still get zero.

No, I'm not happy with the name, but it's not just this name that bothers me - it's the whole process of selecting names that I don't like.

When a subdivision came up for approval last week, it showed a "Thomas" street. No one - not even members of the naming committee - could tell me for whom it was named. The whole process is done behind closed doors and council has no input, not even approval in this case. Unless I read it wrong, that violates our own naming policy. But I seem to be the only one at the table who cares.
The image above doesn't reflect on anyone - it's just what I could find for images relating to dog parks. But it's something dog owners should always pay attention to.

Worst. Debate. Ever.
Ian Chadwick
May 29 2009 06:57 AM

Well, obviously I have to disagree. I believe the naming of things in this community is important. It has long-term impact - those names will be around well past our term, even well past our own lives.

If we must name a park - and I would have been happy with the simple "Collingwood Dog Park" - then we must take that process seriously.

The Admiral
May 29 2009 10:01 AM
The fact that the dog park will be full of *feces* in no time gives me an idea. How about a nice big sign outside the park...

(Please watch where you step)

But Carrier already has a pond named after him. Can't be too greedy.

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