By Jim McCloskey
I spend a good bit of time almost every day wandering around the Internet, exploring and evaluating information and selecting the choicest morsels to share on the homepage of the WaterShapes Web site.
In the past several weeks, I’ve spotted a whole range of stories about problems related to public-sector watershapes. On the one hand are tales of drought conditions causing various municipalities to turn off fountains; on the other are a distressing number of items about public swimming pools that apparently won’t open this summer, whether as a result of budget cuts or regulatory roadblocks.
In the United Kingdom, for example, water shortages brought on by an extraordinarily dry winter have led towns and cities to impose what they call “hosepipe” bans that prohibit the filling of public fountains to keep them operating. This situation cuts so deeply that the iconic fountains of Trafalgar Square have been turned off — a step that must be profoundly disturbing to the British public, almost unpatriotic.
It would be like Kansas City shutting down the watershapes that make it known as the City of Fountains, Chicago sidelining the Crown Fountain or Los Angeles cutting off the flow to Legorreta’s amazing monoliths in Pershing Square. The perception would be that times are so tough, the unthinkable is happening.
If you need help visualizing what such developments would mean to people, seek out photographs of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It’s under renovation and will be back in operation soon — but seeing it empty and dry even temporarily is a jarring sight.
The unthinkable also seems to be happening with public pools across the United States. Although they are not as visually prominent as civic fountains, and some are in questionable condition and probably should be closed for repair and renovation anyway, the fact of the matter is that these facilities are valued by a public that historically makes swimming one of the nation’s top forms of exercise.
A large portion of the stories I’ve seen have to do with municipalities that can’t or won’t open their pools unless fees can be hiked dramatically; at the same time, there has been blowback from pool users who can’t stand the thought of paying more (sometimes much more) to use these pools. Also, there are stories about organizations or businesses coming to the rescue by underwriting the extra costs in order to ensure that a pool will open in time for summer usage. Regulation plays a role here, too, with suction-grate retrofits and ADA requirements making it significantly more expensive to get these facilities up and running this year.
I have no magic wand to pass over these fountains and pools to fill them with, respectively, adequate amounts or water or scads of happy bathers, but I truly wish I did. As I see it, these public-sector watershapes are the leading edge for everything else that happens in watershaping. The fact that people see fountains in action and can swim laps in local municipal pools builds interest in what our water-oriented designers and builders have to offer. The only news that could be worse is that hotels and resorts might somehow join the ranks of entities that must cease sharing watershapes with the general public.
If there’s a fountain in your town that is at risk, please look into the situation and see if there’s anything that can be done to keep the installation going. If there’s a public pool that is making noise about not opening this summer, get involved and see what you can lend to the cause. These very public manifestations of the benefits and virtues of watershaping are too important to all of us to let them be put at risk!
Are issues like these affecting watershapes in your community? If so, please share the details below as a means of encouraging other watershapers to rally to your cause.