Counting all pools

Philly will open 50 of its 65 pools this summer,” read yesterday’s Inquirer headline.

“Where are you getting this 65 number?” I texted a contact at the paper. Philly has 70 outdoor public pools. Including indoor pools (a heated topic these days), Philadelphia has, or should have, 76 public pools.

The source of the lower pool-count in the news seems to have been a City press release about pool openings, which begins: “The City will open 50 pools this summer, representing 80% of the 63 operating outdoor pools available for use.”

We’d all rather open 80% of pools than 71% (what 50/70 would be) or 66% (50/76). The City’s Department of Parks and Recreation – which operates Philly public pools – has put 110% of effort into trying to recruit lifeguards in the face of a national lifeguard shortage; the School District closing most of the indoor pools that were our local lifeguard pipeline; and long-standing societal disinvestment in education, recreation, and public spaces, especially when Black people might be among those benefitting.

But here’s the thing: What’s counted counts. What’s measured matters. Revising the pools-count down is how we end up losing pools in this city.

When I started documenting Philly public pools in 2013, the count was 75. (Researching pool histories, I saw 84-pools-plus counts from previous decades.) A year or two later, it was down to 74 – sorry, indoor-pool-in-the-heart-of-North-Philly Hartranft. In the years since, three of our remaining indoor pools (Sayre, Pickett, and Carousel House) have also closed. Only one of those closings (Carousel House, owned by the City) came with any communication around why it was closing and what would happen next. The others – all School District-owned, and each at least initially just closed for repairs – quietly slipped out of the count. You’d never even know they existed – unless, of course, it was your pool, where your kids learned to swim, your mom did water aerobics, you kept your lifeguard certification current in case one of the staff lifeguards was out sick and they needed another certified guard on the pool deck to stay open. There are at least six existing, currently unused indoor public/school pools in our city – Sayre and Motivation in West Philly, Hartranft and Rhodes and Marcus Foster in North Philly, Pickett in Germantown – and every single one of them has swimmers, lifeguards, parents, clergy, doctors, and other neighbors trying to get them reopened.

There is much more to write about the former glory of these indoor pools. About the fierce neighborhood leaders fighting to fix them, fill them, and fulfill their potential. But for now, the point I want to make is that if we care about our pools, we’ve got to count them. If we do not, they can disappear.

Philadelphia has 76 public swimming pools. Here is the info on the 50 (51 with Lincoln High School’s indoor pool!) that will be open this summer.

1 thought on “Counting all pools

  1. The pool situation is bleak in so many places. Here in NYC, all of our operational outdoor pools are opening 6/28, but there won’t be any aquatics programs such as swim lessons, lap swimming, and senior fitness due to lifeguard shortages. This will have the effect of perpetuating the lifeguard shortage by reducing the pipeline. Some of the reasons for the shortage are bureaucratic, as detailed in this article:

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