The Incredible Potential of Philadelphia’s Neglected Public Pools

Philly has more public pools than any other city in the nation. A new pop-up shows how amazing they could be.

"This would be a great pool day. I’ve heard it uttered a dozen times this summer, probably more, by friends wallowing in sweat-stained misery or baking on city concrete. Sure, it would be nice if everyone could afford the Lombard Swim Club or had an uncle in Ardmore doling out guess passes to his private pool. But those aren’t the only chances Philadelphians have to take a dip. Within walking distance of most people’s home are a multitude of free public pools, run by the City of Philadelphia.

And yet, they’re an afterthought, if that, for many Philadelphians. Why?

The long legacy of racial and class segregation associated with municipal pools has probably ruined some of the allure. Then, there’s scientific studies like this one — about the real reason your eyes turn red in a pool (hint: it’s not the chlorine) — that skeeve people out.

Lots of people also don’t know or don’t believe how convenient they are to access. But it’s mostly about the austere, vaguely-penal appearance of city pools: the barren concrete around the water, nary an umbrella in site; showers with rust-colored water stains, the bathroom graffiti.

A lot of them are in equally bleak rec-center complexes. Many of the city-run pools are part of rec-center complexes, which by and large “look like the Soviet Union,” as Donna Cooper, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, puts it..."