One day in the summer of 2013, I decided to swim in all nine of the public pools in South Philly. By the time I got to pool number seven, Murphy (at 3rd and Shunk), I was a little tired of this adventure, and got in and got out pretty quick.
“Just wanted a quick dip?” the head lifeguard, whose name I later learned was Rodger, asked. So I explained that I worked at O’Connor (another city-run pool) and was out visiting the South Philly pools. It turned out he was part of the squad that had been brought into desegregate O’Connor twenty-five years ago. Rodger and I talked for twenty minutes, and the next day at my pool I relayed his stories back to everyone else. “You need to write this stuff down!” the other lifeguards and pool maintenance attendants insisted.
The purpose of this site is to share stories of a unique and fascinating aspect of our city’s culture. Philadelphia has more public outdoor swimming pools than New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, or Houston — all of which have larger populations than we do. But in this era of austerity and privatization, with attacks on everything from elementary schools to fire stations, none of our public goods are promised to us for long. I want to celebrate these shimmering respites from our sweltering city summers (and the 800+ seasonal and year-round workers who keep them open) while we still have them. They are the best of what our city is and can be.