The Public Pool
Once upon a time, school bussing and the military draft were a way of bringing together people of different regions, religions, colors and class. But in our increasingly polarized society, we rarely mix with people outside our immediate circle, preferring to surround ourselves with familiar voices in our social media echo chambers. Given the current political climate, finding common ground seems impossible.
This is why public institutions are more important than ever to preserving common ground – places where all are welcome and labels are irrelevant. The public pool is one of our few common grounds where kids can go on a blistering hot summer day and be free from social boundaries and political sides.
If you want to get a feel for the character and culture of a place, you can often find it at the pool. I’ve visited pools in Chippewa Falls, WI and Washington DC; Orlando, Austin and Los Angeles; Chicago, Philadelphia and New York; Sioux Falls, SD, Villisca, Iowa and Blooming Prairie, MN. I found that the public pools in these towns and cities are anchors of their communities.
Some of the pools I’ve photographed are melting pots, like Hamilton Fish Pool in Manhattan, where people of all backgrounds jostle together. Pools serve their neighborhoods and most are not as integrated as the Lower East Side. Banneker, established as a pool for black Washingtonians in 1934, is in the heart of one of the fastest gentrifying neighborhoods in the nation. But gentrification doesn’t equate to integration; the only mingling I found at Banneker was in the line for the diving board.
Nonetheless, the public pool is a vital sanctuary for those who don’t live in gated communities or belong to private swim clubs. For so many of us looking back on our childhoods, the pool is summer’s essence, setting the rhythm of days till school starts again. At a time when many of our public institutions are being privatized for profit, supporting and recognizing our public pools is essential.