Pool planning

029

It is really very hot. What would you NOT have given, these past few days, to have glided through some clear cool pool waves?

So many people have asked me when the pools are opening that at this point I feel like I should mention that I am no longer a lifeguard, nor any sort of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation employee. I have no official knowledge or relationship to these most wonderful elements of our city infrastructure. That said, as this site may attest, I do spend a good portion of my free time sniffing around for information about them. And so [drumroll please]:

The pools will start opening Friday, June 19th.

We’ve got six more days to sweat it out. And – more importantly – to plan.

Pool season is brief. All told this year, it will probably be about eight weeks, and some pools might be open as little as four. If we want to make the best use of them, we might as well start thinking about how.

Some questions to consider:

  • What’s your closest pool, from where you can pad home in just a bathing suit and towel? How many days a week can you get there? Will you introduce yourself to the pool staff, maybe even thank them for their work?
  • What other pools do you want to visit this summer? Who will you invite to join you?
  • What reading do you want to get done with your feet in the water? How many laps do you want to swim? How many neighbors would you like to meet?
  • Are your kids ready to be signed up for swimming lessons? Do YOU want to learn how to swim, or how to float, or feel comfortable putting your face in the water?
  • What can you do to help everyone remember that the pools belong to all Philadelphians (including/especially boisterous dark-skinned and/or working-class children and teenagers) – and that taking care of them is all of our responsibility?

Some potentially useful tools and tidbits:

  • Parks and Rec’s list of pools (by section of the city).
  • The best map I know of (though some pools are missing, some are in the wrong location, and others are no longer open). Anyone know any GIS gurus who’d want to work on a new one of these?
  • Some destination pools to consider:
    • Kelly (next to the Please Touch Museum in Fairmount Park) Our biggest pool, and seven feet deep in the middle. There’s grass to lie on within the pool gates.
    • Francisville (18th and Francis, just north of Fairmount Ave): The poor man’s infinity pool, with a view of the skyline. This year home to a very cool event.
    • O’Connor (26th and South): “The Country Club,” people from other pools would scoff when I told them I worked there. That, or “the Taj Mahal.”
    • Athletic (26th and Master): It’s got SLIDES!!!! Plus a sprayground next door.
  • And once you’ve checked those out:

Christopher Battle

023 -touched up

From: West Philadelphia

Age: 25 (when interviewed in 2014)

First pool experience: Cobbs Creek, at 12

Work with the pools: As a lifeguard at James Finnegan since 2013

“My uncle taught me how to swim, and ever since it’s one of my passions. I love the pool. I love swimming. I think everybody should learn how to swim. That’s what we do at our pool. We try to get all the kids, we try to get the adults, we try to get everybody interactive with swimming, learning how to swim. Because a lot of people don’t know how to swim in the city, in the inner city. So it’s good to learn how to swim.

I’m in the pool every day. Some people wouldn’t know that swimming is one of my passions. I don’t talk about it a lot. Growing up, I played football; I ran track. A lot of people don’t know that I love swimming.

I tell everybody, “Get the fear out you.” A lot of people that we have swim lessons with, they say, “I’m scared!” You know. I just try to get the fear out of them. That’s the biggest thing with my swim lessons. Get the fear out. I’m here to teach you, as much as possible.

When I heard a couple years back that the mayor wanted to shut the pools down, I disliked that. I was like, wow. Me growing up – when I was growing up, that was our fun in the summertime, swimming. I want the pools to open. I wish they opened all year-round. (We have some – but there’s only a few.) I like the fact that all the public pools are open. Everybody should go out and at least get a swim in the summertime.”

J. Finnegan (69th and Grovers)

091

I had no concept of how far Southwest Philadelphia extended until I swam at James Finnegan Pool. Or, tried to swim at James Finnegan Pool. It took three attempts to actually get in the water. The first time I tried, the pool had accidentally drained the night before and was refilling. The second time, a child had vomited in the water, so the staff was shocking it (the water, not the child) with chlorine.

A blue island in the middle of a green one, Finnegan’s a large pool, with painted lane lines, a spacious deck and stairs in two of its corners. Straddling the border of Elmwood and Eastwick, it just edges out Barry to be the city’s southernmost pool. Consulting a map indicates that it is not, in fact, at the edge of the universe, though it feels that way when I ride my bike there. It’s where a street (Grovers Avenue) would be, if two of that street’s five blocks were not subsumed by the 17.6 acres of parkland surrounding the pool. The park cuts off or makes dead-ends of about 12 other streets too, so there is no way to drive the perimeter of Finnegan Playground, though you are welcome to drive to it.

Comedian and sports radio personality Big Daddy Graham wrote about Finnegan in 2010:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Famous book, famous movie. Had I written that book based on my surroundings it would have been called A Swimming Pool Opens in Southwest Philly. That’s how important that day was to every grubby child who ever ran away from a cop because someone had just opened a fire hydrant. While no day tops Christmas morning to a kid, the opening of the public swimming pool sure came damn close.

Graham continues with stories of boys’ and girls’ swims and the “basket room” where you could leave your stuff under watchful eyes (let’s bring those back!). It’s worth a read. He wraps up:

Now I live in a “development” in Jersey where about a third of the homes have pools. My kids are older now and our pool is rarely used. Truth be told, if you added the hours up that my neighbors pools were in full swing, theirs wouldn’t amount to much time usage, either. It’s sad and embarrassing, to tell you the truth. If there was a way to give my pool away to some neighborhood that would use it and treasure it, I would. I really would.

So listen, even if you don’t live in the city anymore, sign a check the next time the cities pools are in danger, write a check. Even if it’s five measly bucks, it all adds up. It’s that important to a kid that the pool is there. Walk a block, climb a fence, cut through the alley, and DAG! There it is in all its blue glory.

(There used to be another swath of blue glory in deepest Southwest, Island Road Pool, at 2227 Island Avenue. But Island Road didn’t make it through the 2004 budget cuts, that rec center is now the Philadelphia Montessori Charter School, and these days Finnegan’s it for miles in every direction.)

Finnegan opened in 1956 and over the years has reflected its neighborhood’s economic hardship and racial unrestRodger Caldwell, a 40-year veteran City lifeguard, tells of being dispatched there in the mid-1990s to help work through Black-white tensions that were playing out in the water. Over three decades earlier, Father Paul Washington and journalist and community leader Charles Sutton organized a series of planned swims to integrate Finnegan, which – while always public and in theory open to all – had in practice operated as a whites-only facility. In an August 1960 piece for the Philadelphia Tribune, Sutton and Washington wrote:

The first plannedFinnegan.1960 swim was held on Thursday, August the fourth. The group included ten neighborhood Negro boys, ranging from nine to sixteen. Two Negro adults, one a clergyman, and two white adults one a clergyman, also went swimming with the boys. Another white clergyman was present.

The Negro and white children swam and played happily and naturally together for the first hour. Then trouble developed. An observer on the scene later pointed out that a woman had arrived and began inciting trouble.

She walked over to a group of about ten white teenage boys who were about to enter the pool and exclaimed angrily about the Negroes using the pool.

These boys and others they had incited, about fifty in all, began splashing and booing and chanting, “we hate niggers.”

The demonstration, however, was short-lived. It appeared to us that many of those who were called into the demonstration did not have their hearts in it.

There was no further trouble, though some people did taunt us when we left.

Since then there have been three more planned swims. Aside from some grumbling by a few white adults, there have been no more unpleasant incidents.

The hope of the group is that soon the Negro boys of the neighborhood will stroll over to Finnegan or ride over on their bikes whenever they get the impulse, as boys do everywhere.

No one in our group considers this a “victory.” There still indeed may be trouble. But we believe any trouble can be contained. We believe that most of the people in the community are on the side of decency.

Finnegan Pool is right in the middle of its rec center grounds, south of Dicks Avenue, north of Lindbergh Boulevard, and bounded by 68th and 70th Streets. The most direct access is to cut though the playground from 69th Street.

484

Finnegan Pool refilling, 2013.

Southwest Philly’s Pools

Southwest Philly’s first public pool — built at 63rd and Woodland in 1915 — has been gone a long time.

Of all City residents these days, Southwest Philadelphians have the least access to recreational facilities. In 2010, only 28.7% of Southwest Philly adults reported regular use of neighborhood rec sites (including public pools), as opposed to 41.8% citywide and 58.9% in some parts of the Northwest (the area with the most access).

Is it unrelated that nearly 57% of adults in the Southwest have high blood pressure (the highest of any neighborhood)? INTO THE POOL, PEOPLE!!

If only it was that easy. Southwest Philly also has a poverty rate of 36%. And that’s the official poverty rate ($24,250 for a family of four). How many families are living on just a little more?

In this context, Southwest’s three free swim spots could not be more essential. Rollicking Kingsessing. Family-friendly Myers. Far, far away Finnegan.

Here’s the Department of Parks and Recreation’s listing. (They include Christy at 56th and Christian — I’ll cover that along with West Philly pools.)

Here’s a map from PlanPhilly.

Source for the unattributed stats above: Philadelphia Department of Public Health Community Health Assessment 2014.

Telling a different story

Last week, a woman went to Hunting Park Pool in North Philly. The pool staff thought the swimsuit she was wearing was underwear and told her she couldn’t swim in a public pool in her underwear. When she proved to them that it was, in fact, a swimsuit (by showing them the tag), they let her in the pool, but one of the lifeguards publically ridiculed her until she left. Later in the week, the same woman went to Sacks Pool in South Philly, where a different pool staff also thought her swimsuit was underwear. They, too, told her she couldn’t swim in a public pool in her underwear, and showing them the swimsuit tag did not change their minds.

Philadelphia Magazine wrote about it. And now the story’s made international headlines.

There are many reasons why I’d love to see our pools make headlines. Here are just a few: Because there are more of them (outdoor ones at least) than in any other city in the country. Because they provide relief and recreation to hundreds of thousands of hot and sweaty human beings stuck in the city all summer. Because they employ 800 Philadelphia summer workers. Because the majority of those workers do an excellent job the majority of the time: teaching people to swim, making sure that those who can’t swim don’t drown, cleaning the pools and checking the chlorine levels and making sure the PH balance in the water is safe for swimming.

I’d love to see our pools make international headlines because Philadelphia’s parks and recreation system manages to do all of this EVEN THOUGH our city spends less on our parks per capita than 43 other of the 60 largest U.S. cities. (Philadelphia spends $61 per resident per year; Minneapolis, $214; New York, $171; New Orleans, $104.)

And I guess I just have a hard time believing that Philadelphia Magazine (they of the cover story on how hard it is to be a white person in Philadelphia, among other gems of race and class awareness) actually cares very much about the experiences of most swimmers or staff at Philadelphia’s public pools. Is it funny to them to stir up arguments between people who want to shame pool staffers for not recognizing a name-brand swimsuit, and people who want to shame a woman for her choice of swimsuit? Does lifting up the inappropriate and unacceptable actions of a knucklehead lifeguard help build consensus toward someday getting rid of our pools, or at least shrinking their numbers? Or am I totally off? Because if I am, I would love to see their pages run a piece on, say, the need for Comcast (among other entities profiting off our populace) to pay their fair share so that Philadelphia has enough money to fully fund our schools, our fire services, our parks and our pools.

David

019

Age: 44

From: Brooklyn, New York; has lived in Germantown since 2000

Work with the pools: As a Pool Maintenance Attendant since 2012

“I like to think that I’m good with kids. I’m a single father, so the same tactics I use here I use with my son at home. If I had it my way, I’d be a counselor that works with hard at-risk teens. I like working with kids that society forgot about, don’t want to work with no more. I can relate to them because I was brought up in the street. So I know how hard it can be out there sometimes.

Each kid is different. Some kids you have to explain to, because they’re not accustomed to having things explained to them. They get, “Stop,” “Don’t do this,” “Leave that alone.” A lot of kids you have to explain to them why you don’t want them to [run, or dive] so they have a better understanding of why you’re telling them not to do it. And just be patient. That’s one thing about kids, you have to be patient. You have to show them an authority figure, but you have to be gentle with them also. They’re children. They’re growing. They’re learning.”