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A Mighty Chorus

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I’ve been up on my “river pools” hobby horse for a good while now, which is why I can’t believe I missed a great story from the online version of Outside magazine when it appeared on May 19, 2016.

Written by Erin Beresini and headlined, “Why Urban Swimming Pools Are Raising Millions on Kickstarter: Inside the revolution to reclaim city waterways for recreation,” the article neatly encapsulates much of what I’ve been thinking about these watershapes – although for obvious reasons Ms. Beresini’s thoughts didn’t immediately extend to the immense commercial potential I believe they have.

She began: “British architect Chris Romer-lee was on holiday in Zurich in 2013 when he had an epiphany. Or, rather, a pang of envy. ‘I couldn’t believe you could swim in the lake, which is right in the middle of the city center,’ Romer-lee says. ‘There’s a whole series of public baths on the edge of the lake, and then you just enter the lake. It’s like a natural swimming pool.’ “

Soon thereafter, reports Beresini, Romer-lee spotted a request for proposals about the future of London’s River Thames, in response to which “Romer-lee and his partners at his firm Studio Octopi knew exactly what to do. ‘We presented a utopian vision of swimming in the Thames,’ he says. The idea – for floating pools of natural Thames water – was one of five selected to present to a panel of advisors and to the public. ‘That led to the Kickstarter campaign, which was a spectacular success.’ “

The Kickstarter campaign for Romer-lee’s Thames Baths project made other architects take note, writes Beresini. Soon, “Romer-lee realized he was not alone in his desire to reclaim city waterways for recreation. In fact, he’s not alone in designing floating pools that naturally filter city river water, either; the swimming hole is fast becoming the modern metropolis’s new must-have.”

She then mentions New York’s Plus Pool, Berlin’s Flussbad, Houston’s Swimming Hole project and efforts in Portland, Ore., to reclaim the Willamette River for recreational use – all of which I’ve brought up in previous blogs.

In the 1940s and ’50s, Beresini observes, London had an Outdoor Swimming Society, but it faded when indoor swimming pools became popular and people started preferring their heated confines to the chilly waters of the Thames. Then pollution became a factor further discouraging river use – a two-front pattern of dissociation repeated in urban centers around the world.

“Large-scale efforts to clean city waterways [are] a big reason so many people are trying to bring back swimming,” she notes, adding that the simple desire to reconnect with nature and even recognition of spiritual ties to water have come into play.

“[S]everal cities have already opened natural swimming spaces,” she writes. “Vienna has its own dedicated swimming channel in the Danube, the result of a flood-control project started in the 1970s, for example, and Brisbane’s Streets Beach opened in 1992. More recently, Copenhagen welcomed Kalvebod Waves, a natural water park completed in the city’s harbor in 2013 that strongly resembles what Romer-lee is trying to achieve.”

In many cases, she concludes, the architecture of these pools “contributes to the health of the waterways and their ecosystems by using wetlands to help filter the water and create wildlife refuges. . . . From a human health and well-being point of view, the projects offer people a new public space and way to connect in nature. And then, of course, there’s the opportunity to swim.”

Some of these projects have, according to Beresini, raised hundreds of thousands in Kickstarter funding, so there’s clearly broad public support for the river-pool concept – and, dare I say it again, a wonderful opportunity to fill this marketplace with turnkey systems that speed the global proliferation of river pools.

A day at the urban beach, anyone?

To see the complete Outside article, click here.

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