Developing the ability to swim in the US is largely tied to socioeconomic status and/or social equity.
There is extensive data that supports this truth and reveals the growing disparities and increased risks certain groups face as a result of never learning how to swim. This equity gap traces back to segregated pool access, lack of investment in recreation infrastructure in certain urban areas and general lack of access.
At the same time access to public pools is becoming even more critical amidst climate change and increasing temperatures globally. Pools can be safe havens for community members to cool off during our hottest days, and communities should be doing more to invest in these important spaces.
Refreshingly, Baltimore City Recreation and Parks (BCRP) is taking a systematic, city-wide design approach to curbing this equity gap. Teaming with design firm CannonDesign, BCRP is investing in the full renovation of a series of pool facilities across the city.
Each one will offer multi-generational aquatic opportunities via both a lap and family recreation pool. Once fully implemented, the plan will ensure no one in the City of Baltimore is more than a walk away from a pool facility where they can learn to swim, recreate and/or exercise. The first such facility will be the Walter P. Carter Pool + Bathhouse, which establishes standards for each project to follow.
Furthermore, the pool and bathhouse buildings are designed to be functional, communal, and elegant all at once. BCRP is also infusing elements like public gardens that neighborhoods can adopt and maintain over time, developing a sense of pride and ownership of these spaces.
The effort will bring extensive new aquatic resources to the urban Baltimore community, helping reset the equity challenges around swimming identified above.
Inequity is deeply embedded in our society. This needs to be changed on every front. As designers, we must transform the spaces and signals in the built environment that perpetuate inequities. This is our moral responsibility and an incredibly important—and long overdue—opportunity to realize equity now.