Urban swimming is becoming a thing again

early urban swimmers in Toronto
Public Domain Early urban swimmers in Toronto; Toronto Archives

More and more cities are cleaning up their act and their water, and it is a wonderful thing.

Urban swimming used to be a big deal in many cities, before people realized the danger of swimming in what were essentially open sewers. To deal with that problem, cities like New York built urban pools, but the polio scares of the fifties closed many of those down. But now, as waterfronts get cleaned up, it has become a thing again. On Urban Hub they write:

Although many urban waterways are cleaner than ever, bringing water up to swimmable standards remains a challenge. Seoul, working on its water quality since 1982, now sees windsurfers and kayakers on the Nan River, but swimming is still risky. Thus, they brought swimming to the water’s edge, building pools and water parks along the river. Other cities are also inching closer to the water. Paris set up water playgrounds, parks, and beaches along the Seine. The mayor aims to have the water clean enough to swim in by 2024. To offer swimming right in the city center, Vienna submerged a floating pool in the Danube canal.

Mcallef tweetShawn Micallef on Twitter/Screen capture

When I grew up in Toronto and spent time on my dad’s sailboat or my own dinghy, you had to go out a mile or so to get to freezing cold water that you could safely swim in; there was poop and who knows what else floating in the harbor or at the beaches. If I flipped my Laser yet again (appropriately named “Bottoms Up!”) I had to go straight to the showers. Now, swimmers can use the beaches for most of the summer; it’s only in the worst storms that the combined sewers overflow into the lake. It’s still cold, but it’s really an historic transformation.

Pool in CopenhagenFloating pool in Copenhagen/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Then of course there is Copenhagen, which is building pools and incredible swim structures in what was previously a polluted harbour. This is happening all over the world, and is one of the great success stories of the environmental movement -- that the public has come to expect and demand clean water and, in most cases, cities are delivering it.

Astoria PoolNew York City Parks and Recreation/Public Domain

Many cities also have great public pools, like those that were built in New York during the Depression. Some of them are just huge and have been recently restored, like Brooklyn's McCarren Park Pool.

Urban Hub shows a totally incomplete map of urban beaches, some of which, like Rio, are really still filthy. They should open up the map and let us all add to it with our stories of urban swimming. Read more at Urban Hub.

Tags: Cities | Copenhagen | Toronto

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