City Dwellers Create Alternative Swimming Holes

08/23/10 6:34AM
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Photo:Sarah Reynolds
Macro-Sea converted three dumpsters into mobile pools and set them up in the middle of the night on Park Ave in New York City.

(Host) Across the Northeast, people have been cooling off wherever they can. 

On Cape Cod, it's the National Seashore.  In Vermont, it's backwoods swimming holes or Lake Champlain.

And in New York City this month, people are taking a dip right on the street.  In special pools made out of Dumpsters. 

As part of a collaboration with Northeast public radio stations, Sarah Reynolds reports the Dumpsters are a clean hit.

(Reynolds) Imagine -- barefoot people in bathing suits, lounging in hammocks by striped cabanas.

But this isn't a scene from an exclusive beach resort. These pools sit at the foot of towering buildings on Park Avenue within sight of Grand Central Station. 

On a recent Saturday morning, the street is shut off to cars. Dozens of swimmers line up for a dip.  Max Preston, wearing braces on his teeth and swimming trunks down to his knees, got in line with his mom at 6:30 in the morning.

(Max Preston) "Well, you don't really swim in Dumpsters much so, you know it's a once in a lifetime opportunity."

(Reynolds) The Dumpster pools were created and built by MacroSea, a developer that works in city environments.  David Belt is the president.   

(David Belt) "There's a huge movement towards, kind of adaptive reuse of materials, that something as common as a Dumpster could be repurposed and made into a pool that people could interact with."

(Reynolds) New York City has a long history of providing outdoor swimming pools for the public. 

In the 1960s, there were "portable pools" designed to move from neighborhood to neighborhood. 

These pools are also mobile, but they don't look like Dumpsters at all.  A staircase leads from the road to decks that fold up from the Dumpsters.  Like any swimming pool, they're lined. And these are just over four-feet deep.

Tom Eisman McGann's taking full advantage of them.  He's a Brooklyn native and veteran Polar-Bear swimmer who's used to swimming in winter water temperatures in the low 40's.

(McGann) "The water's about 77 degrees."

(Reynolds) "You can guess the temperature?"

(McGann) "I have a thermometer with me."

(Reynolds) Swimmers said the temperature was a bit warmer than the morning air.

(Megaphone) "Alright, number 1-35, clear the pool. I hope you enjoyed it."

(Reynolds) To enter the pools, the swimmers pass under a shower head to rinse their feet and climb the steps onto the decks in rotating groups of 35.  Janine Wasserman came to the pools from Queens with her two young kids.

(Wasserman) "This is something different.  How often can you say you swam in the middle of Park Avenue by Grand Central? I didn't know they could only go in here for 20 minutes, though."

(Reynolds) Eve Preston, who's here with her son Max, agrees the 20-minute time limit isn't quite long enough.  But it's enough to take in the skyscrapers as she floats on her back.

(Eve Preston) "Oh it's fantastic.  The view here is unbelievable when you look up.  It's better than I expected."

David Belt of MacroSea says he'd like to see these pools in neighborhoods where there's limited green space.  As one swimmer said, it sure beats a park sprinkler for cooling off on a hot day.

For VPR News, I'm Sarah Reynolds.

(Host outro) Northeast environmental reporting is made possible, in part, by a grant from United Technologies. The coverage is part of NPR's Local News Initiative.

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