While the Weather Channel said yesterday's high was 98, I'm certain it was at least 100. Philadelphians are no strangers to brutally hot summer days, but it's not even summer. If this is any indication of what's to come, where do we go to seek relief?
I've been to a Philadelphia public pool...once. If I wanted to stew in lukewarm city water I'd put a baby pool in my living room. Honestly, it wasn't that the pool grossed me out, it was the way it was managed. There were no changing rooms or restrooms. Your possessions had to be stashed away from the pool, out of sight.
Additionally, the typical crowd control rules applied: No jumping, No splashing, No diving, No swimming. Essentially, if you did anything other than simply stand in place, you'd hear a whistle. Those sorts of things are understandable in an overcrowded swimming pool, but they don't make me want to return.
Then you have your private pools. I haven't found one that costs less than $1000 for the season. My advice, join Philadelphia Sports Club in Washington Square at their monthly rate for June, July, and August. They have a great outdoor pool and you won't be bothered by kids.
Then there is always Philadelphia's most popular "public pool", Swann Memorial Fountain in Logan Square. Now I'm not condoning the massive legal liability the city is opening itself up to by looking the other way as kids climb their way to the top of this massive metal and concrete impromptu splash park. But on hot days, when your alternatives are the overcrowded petrie dishes or something most just can't afford, it's hard to put the hammer down on this tradition. They tried a few years ago, and once the mercury rose as high as yesterday, enforcement relented.
Several years ago officials began enforcing a "no swimming" policy on public fountains. Public backlash and a debilitating heatwave forced the city to look the other way, particularly at the popular Swann Memorial Fountain.
I'll admit, it's gross. I'll also admit that I've climbed to the center, looked down on the Delaware's representation, and yes, he is in fact anatomically correct.
I've heard all the arguments. I know homeless people bathe in public fountains, among other things. But with no restrooms available at public pools, they aren't any cleaner. Chlorine bleach kills everything. One time I had my feet in Washington Square's fountain and a nosy woman came up to tell me, "You can't put your feet in there. The homeless pee in there." To which I replied, "So the homeless can use it as a toilet, but I can use it to cool off my piggies?"
Mind your own business.
But I digress. Cleanliness aside, Swann Memorial Fountain is not an amusement park. While a 14 year old lifeguard will call me out of a public pool for splashing, Swann Fountain remains an unsecured recreational landmark. As much as I love the tradition, I understand we live in a litigious society, especially in Philadelphia, and it's really only a matter of time.
But don't misunderstand me. I'm not being negative. I'm certainly not saying shut it down. I'm saying offer an alternative. I hate to repeatedly cite Portland as an example, but let's face it, they know how to please their people. Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown Portland has several fountains, including Salmon Street Springs and Bill Naito Legacy Fountain designed specifically to be interactive.
Salmon Street Springs in Portland, OR was designed with interactivity in mind. Understanding that Philadelphia summers can be particularly brutal, we have no modern fountains designed to accommodate the needs met by Swann Fountain's usage as an impromptu watering hole.
With the wildly successful improvements to the Museum of Art and the Schuylkill Banks which continue to make their way down the Parkway, developers could be looking at utilizing some of the available green space, perhaps the vacant Calder Sculpture Garden, as the site for a new landmark fountain, one designed to meet the needs that are currently met by Swann Fountain.