Public swimming pools by numbers
Summer may be coming to an end, but in many parts of the country, the weather has yet to calm down. You may want to spend your weekends in the pool trying to beat the heat. However, for many Americans, public swimming pools are difficult to access. It turns out there are a lot of factors involved in the history of public swimming pools, and these pools have a lot more to do with racial and economic inequality than you might think. Below we do the numbers:
It is difficult to find the current number of swimming pools in the United States, but estimates from the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals (now part of the Pool and Hot Tub Alliance) indicate that there are more than 10.7 million. Just about 309,000 Of these complexes are available to the public, however, with the rest 10.4 million Swimming pools belonging to residences or individuals. The New York Times’ Mara Gay broke this number down further, explaining that many “public” pools are not readily available to the public, because they may be part of schools or hotels.
Boston opened the country’s first municipal swimming pool in 2008 1868Although it was designed as a bathing area and not a leisure pool. The pool was separated by gender, so men and women had to swim in different pools. This was even the general trend 1913, when a gender-integrated public pool opened in St. Louis. However, the group was separated by race. Although built in a majority black city, black swimmers were not allowed to use the pool.
The construction of public swimming pools has achieved great success in 1920s and 1930s. Before the Great Depression, the shorter workweek in the 1920s and increased leisure time led to greater demand for swimming pools and more pool construction, according to Jeff Wiltse, author of Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America. As America worked its way out of the Depression, About 750 ponds They were then built as part of New Deal programs, Wiltsie suggests. (This great site tells you which pools, among other infrastructure projects, were part of the New Deal and explains their individual history.) However, when public pools began to integrate racially, pools like this one in Kansas City were closed either temporarily or permanently rather than comply.
Today, public pools remain a flashpoint as racial disparities and income disparities manifest themselves in ways that in some cases can be fatal.
Access to swimming pools is an essential part of public health and safety, which means reduced access can lead to inequalities in swimming skills, and increased risk of drowning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, More than 4000 people In the United States, people die from unintentional drownings every year, and unintentional drowning deaths generally rise in July and remain high through the summer months.
Children are particularly affected: drowning is The No. 1 cause of death for children aged 1-4 years and the No. 2 cause of death due to unintentional injury for children aged 5-14 years., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Drowning locations also vary by age, with most drownings occurring in children aged 1 to 4 years in swimming pools, while only 30% of drowning cases For children ages 5 to 14, it occurs in swimming pools. For those aged 15 years and above, More than half Many drownings occur in natural waters. Regardless of where these drownings occur, increasing the ability to swim — which often comes along with access to a public pool and access to swimming lessons — can help reduce drowning rates. (With this in mind, the New York City Council recently passed a bill that would include free swimming lessons for the city’s second-graders.)
As it stands now, the drowning rates for black children ages 10 to 14 in swimming pools are the same 7.6 times higher Than white children, black children are more likely to drown in public swimming pools (white children are more likely to drown in residential pools). On average, blacks in the United States have drowning death rates 1.5 times higher Of the number of white people, a number is growing to 3.6 times When looking at black children between the ages of 10 and 14. These discrepancies extend to American Indians and Alaska Natives as well, whose rates of drowning deaths are high 2 times higher Of white people, they have the highest rates of drowning deaths in natural waters.
It is suggested that swimming ability is also associated with socioeconomic class. A 2017 study from USA Swimming found this 79% of children In families with incomes of less than $50,000, there was no or low swimming experience. USA Swimming also found that only children in families where one parent doesn’t know how to swim have 19% probability of learning to swimThis makes the problem of knowing how to swim a generational problem. A Red Cross study looking into reasons why people don’t seek out swimming lessons found that limited free time, limited lesson times and affordability are often barriers.
Public swimming pools are important parts of city infrastructure as temperatures rise. Last July, 10 of 18 public pools in Boston They were closed for repairs amid a heat wave, though the city’s website recommended residents cool off in the pools listed. The ratio of people in the United States to public pools has reportedly risen in recent years (which means more people, fewer pools), and that’s before considering individual and systemic barriers to access.
One American city remains a notable (and somewhat surprising) attraction for swimming pools: they actually exist 10.8 public swimming pools per 100,000 residents From Cleveland, Ohio, the highest average in the country. Cleveland is followed by Cincinnati (7.9 public pools per 100,000 residents), Atlanta (7.7 public pools) and Pittsburgh (7.2 public pools). However, larger numbers of pools do not always correlate with more access. Among other problems, Cleveland pools experienced a shortage of lifeguards last summer, leading to reduced hours.
While public pools may simply seem like a nice place to spend a hot day, their impact and purpose are tightly woven into historical issues of race, access, and equality. As the days get hotter, the problems of America’s public swimming pool system may become a more pressing part of the national conversation.
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