What’s Wrong with This Picture?

By Jim McCloskey

I was wandering around the web the other day when I came across this headline:  “City Breaks Ground On First New City Pool In 50+ Years.”

Ironically, the town getting the new pool isn’t some backwater where there’s been no growth or progress in the last half-century:  It’s Fort Worth, Texas – a robust partner in the Dallas metroplex and one of the fastest growing municipalities (in population terms) in the country’s fastest growing state.

Even more ironic is the fact that the new pool isn’t really going to be “new” in the sense that it’s a watershape where none ever existed.  Instead, it’s actually a replacement for a nearby park pool that first opened in 1926.  And it’s not as though it was a snap decision.  As an article about the project on cbsdfw.com put it, “For decades, people on the north side of Fort Worth have complained about the city swimming pool.”

Even though the city isn’t actually gaining a watershape, it’s still good news and I’m certain the new pool will be fully modern, less expensive to operate and filled with fun features and amenities that weren’t part of anyone’s dreams during the Roaring ’20s.

In fact, reading about this one-for-one watershape swap struck me as good news on a second level, because most of the stories I read about municipal pools seem to end badly:  All too frequently, the articles are about towns that have decided for all sorts of reasons – liability, operating costs, decrepitude, changing demographics – to shutter their pools and leave the swimming public to its own devices.  That might be great for health clubs and the owners of institutional pools that are able (if willing) to fill the void, but it sharply limits community access to watershapes where many (if not most) kids get their swim lessons, most adults swim their laps and most families come to beat the summer heat.  Good news, not great.

And let’s not overlook a bigger issue here:  Why, in a city with the size and growth history of Fort Worth, have no new municipal pools been built since the 1960s?  Why aren’t new pools appearing in cities and towns of all sizes and descriptions on an ongoing, steady basis?  Why are the headlines so dominated by stories of old pools being closed because they’re too expensive or plain too old to be updated and restored?

I live in Woodland Hills – consistently the hottest place within Los Angeles’ city limits each summer – and I know of no new public pool having been built locally in the 25 years I’ve been here.  I’m aware of two that have been closed, but of none that have opened.

At a time when health and fitness are such issues and study after study declares the benefits of swimming and working out in water; at a time when too few children know how to swim, let alone be comfortable enough in water to survive falling or wandering into a pond or pool; at a time when rebuilding our infrastructure seems to be so high on everyone’s agenda, it makes no sense that pools are more commonly being closed or replaced instead of multiplying across the landscape like bunnies.

What do you think?  Have we moved so far toward private ownership of places to swim that municipal pools are outmoded?  I spent my childhood summers swimming in a local public pool three or four times a week, so I’d have trouble accepting that thought – but is the real world different from the one I see?  Please share your thoughts and insights here.

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