Tucson Progressive

Pamela Powers Hannley, a progressive voice for Arizona

Is swimming a sport now reserved for the wealthy?

Summertime swimming– especially with temperatures over 100– is sheer delight. (Photo Credit: Pamela Powers)

For two years now, only a handful of Tucson’s public swimming pools have been opened to the public, thanks to budget cuts.

Last summer, I wrote about access to public pools and complained that only people who could afford fitness club memberships or who lived in communities with their own pools could enjoy the luxuries of cooling off in the water during the hot summer months.

This spring–not happy with the sad state of public pools in Tucson– Jim Hannley, president of the El Rio Neighborhood Association and a life-long swimmer, started a one-man crusade to open at least one pool on Tucson’s west side for the 2011 season. He met with one of the top Parks and Recreation administrators, along with Ward One Councilwoman Regina Romero, the West Side Coalition, and public health researchers at the University of Arizona. He even considered starting a fund-raising campaign to open at least one pool. The West Side Coalition of eight neighborhoods passed a resolution to appeal to the Tucson Mayor and Council to open more pools but to no avail. Hannley was told that each pool costs the city $50,000 for the season– not an extraordinary amount of cash– but his crusade to provide swimming and swimming lessons for children and families in some of Tucson’s poorer neighborhoods was thwarted by bureaucracy and lack of resources.

According to a recent article in the Huffington Post, When Did Swimming Become a Privilege in the United States?, Tucson is not the only major city to cut swimming pools and swimming lessons to save money.

… cities and counties all over the country are closing their public swimming pools. In this summer of sweltering heat, with our nation in three overseas conflicts and oil companies reaping windfall profits from high gas prices and Republican politicians fighting to protect the riches of millionaires and billionaires, we cannot seem to find enough resources to keep the pools open for our kids.

“From New York City to Sacramento, Calif.,” the Associated Press writes, “pools now considered costly extravagances are being shuttered.”

Sacramento, according to the story, had 13 pools a decade ago for its nearly half-million residents but will have only three by next summer. Search Google and you’ll find report after report of communities padlocking their pools. Pasco County, Florida, one of the fastest growing counties in the United States with 471,000 residents, is debating whether to close its last two county-run pools. Johnston County, North Carolina… Goodlettsville, Tennessee… Beverly, West Virginia… Utica, New York… Austin, Texas… cities and towns around the country are closing their pools or proposing to do so.

Ours is the wealthiest nation in human history. But we are obviously not all sharing in the wealth.

The top 150,000 families in the United States — meaning the top 0.1 percent of all earners — earn over 10 percent of our nation’s income. From the World War II years through 1980, the top 0.01 percent of all American families earned about 180 times more income than what the bottom 90 percent averaged; today it’s close to 1,000 times more. While income for America’s high earners has soared, it has flatlined for almost everyone else.

In terms of wealth, the top 10 percent of Americans control over 70 percent of our wealth, while the bottom 50 percent holds just 2.5 percent, and in fact the richest 1 percent possess more wealth than the bottom 90 percent of Americans.

Yes, the wealthiest Americans may have their own pools, and pricey swim clubs dot affluent suburban communities whose well-heeled residents can afford a membership and annual dues.

And in those grand backyards of Greenwich, Connecticut or McLean, Virginia — as well as those well-maintained suburban pool clubs — you will hear the squeals of children splashing in water and letting their summer imaginations flow and playing impromptu pool games with foam footballs and noodles. Teenagers will preen themselves for one another or lie in the sun procrastinating about their summer reading. Kids having summer fun, making friends, creating lifelong memories — good for them.

But in the rest of the country, where families have fewer and fewer summer options, childhood will lose yet another of its vivid narratives. There will be no poolside memories for those unlucky kids. Public pools used to be magnets for people of all backgrounds to mingle and splash, but that too will be lost as poolside hobnobbing will be reserved only for those able to afford the privilege.

When our country looks at public spaces simply as expenditures to be cut, we lose a lot more than just a line in the budget. [Emphasis added.]

According to the Tucson Parks and Recreation website, 11 pools are open this swimming season, which ends this Friday, July 29. First of all, it is unconscionable to have 11 pools open in a metropolitan area of nearly 1 million people. Second of all, it is ludicrous in a city that regularly sees temperatures over 100 degrees to have a swimming season that goes from June 6 through July 29.  According to the schedule, some pools will have an extended season through November 15, and three pools– Sunnyside, Clements, and Catalina will be open all year. A neighbor of mine went to the Catalina pool in midtown recently and had to wait in line to swim laps because the pool was so busy on a week day. Too bad the Himmel Park pool has been closed for two years.

Providing safe and affordable recreational facilities for all of its citizens is an important, cost-effective role for local government. Swimming pools, recreation centers, and parks foster good health habits through exercise, reduce long-term public health costs by decreasing the obesity rate, provide activities for teens, improve quality of life, build community and in the case of swimming lessons– directly save lives.

Tucson should start now to develop a plan to open more pools next year.

13 comments on “Is swimming a sport now reserved for the wealthy?

  1. Pingback: Is swimming a sport now reserved for the wealthy? – Tucson Citizen - Tucson News Up to the Minute - Your Tucson Daily

  2. leftfield
    July 26, 2011

    Would that lack of access to public pools were the worst example of the increasing wealth and income disparity in America. 

    • stoneave
      July 26, 2011

      I’m no fan of corporate swilling at the public trough, but democrats aren’t any better than republicans about it and the incompetence in city and county leadership is a huge cause of the problem. Tucson and Pima County are backwards places to live compared to other communities where there is a far greater return to the community from local taxes. The fact that they can’t keep open public swimming pools is ridiculous. They’ve certainly had the money to do it passing through their hands.

      • stoneave
        July 26, 2011

        That was supposed to be a reply to Pamela’s comment, not leftfield’s. The “reply” link under her comment wasn’t working with my browser for some reason, so I put it in a new thread instead and it ended up attached to leftfield. Funky.

      • Pamela
        July 26, 2011

        What you’re forgetting here is that the Arizona Legislature has repeatedly welched on the tax sharing agreements it has with cities and counties. They have stolen millions from the City of Tucson and other municipalities in order to dole out regular corporate tax breaks. The Arizona Legislature balanced their budget by stealing from the people and from other governments down the food chain.

  3. Pamela Powers
    July 26, 2011

    I hear you on that one, Leftfield. Public swimming pool closures and potholes are a symbols of what’s wrong with the Republican cut-taxes-and-cut-spending (while coddling corporate masters) strategy.

  4. DA Morales
    July 27, 2011

    The best the west-side can do is have a one day swimming event at the Marriott. If you look at satellite pictures of some neighborhoods, especially in places like Scottsdale, you will see a swimming pool in every back year…

    • Pamela Powers
      July 27, 2011

      Actually I think hotels like Hotel Tucson (St. Mary’s and I10) are missing a HUGE marketing opportunity by not allowing locals to swim there for cheap. Look at all the beer and sandwiches they could sell with that nice poolside restaurant and patio they have.

    • Fraser007
      July 27, 2011

      I went to the Tucson City Parks and Rec website for pools. The pools are spread out over the entire city. Several for the South side kids. So whats your problem? And guess what, we dont live in Scottsdale. Maybe if we were not spending all of our money on crime and poverty caused by our population we could have more pools. Or whatever else we need.

      • Pamela Powers
        July 29, 2011

        Yes, the 11 open pools are scattered around. The point is that the city has 20 some pools total (26, I believe). They used to list the closed pools on the website, but now only list the open ones. Pools and rec centers do fight crime because they give teens something to do.

      • Fraser007
        July 29, 2011

        I will grant you your last point. Correct! Maybe parents could be part of that solution. But the rec centers and pools are important.
        The Parks Dept has take major hits on the budget. Everybody has to cut, even pools.

  5. swimmer mom
    July 27, 2011

    Actually, Pima county has been able to keep pools open, some on the west side, none on the east side or mid-town. Sure it costs alot to run these city pools, but how much is it going to cost to make them usable again? What a shame, we also lost a huge number of teen jobs with these cuts. Now these kids aren’t even getting certified to lifeguard because there are no jobs for them.

    • Fraser007
      July 29, 2011

      Good point swimmermom. But from my observations the lifeguards are extremely goal driven kids. They should be able to get jobs. There are some of the finest young adults we have in this city. Its tough out there for adults too.

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The Tucson Progressive: Pamela Powers Hannley

I stand on the side of Love. I believe in kindness to all creatures on Earth and the inherent self-worth of all individuals--not just people who agree with me or look like me.

Widespread economic and social injustice prompted me to become a candidate for the Arizona House, representing Legislative District 9 in the 2016 election. My platform focuses on economic reforms to grow Arizona's economy, establish a state-based public bank, fix our infrastructure, fully fund public education, growlocal small businesses and community banks, and put people back to work at good-paying jobs. I also stand for equal rights, choice, and paycheck fairness for women. I am running as a progressive and running clean.

My day job is managing editor for the American Journal of Medicine, an academic medicine journal with a worldwide circulation. In addition, my husband and I co-direct Arizonans for a New Economy, Arizona's public banking initiative. I am a member of the national board of the Public Banking Institute, and I am co-chair of the Arizona Democratic Progressive Caucus, the largest caucus of the Arizona Democratic Party.

I am a published author, photographer, videographer, clay artist, mother, nana, and wife. I have a bachelor's degree in journalism from Ohio State University and a masters in public health from the University of Arizona. I grew up in Amherst, Ohio, but I have lived in Tucson, Arizona since 1981. I am a proud member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson and the Public Relations Society of America.

My Tucson Progressive blog and Facebook page feature large doses of liberal ideas, local, state, and national politics, and random bits of humor. I also blog at Blog for Arizona and the Huffington Post.

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