Public pools are disappearing

CNN's Nathaniel Meyersohn writes on the slow, inexorable disappearance of public swimming pools. Old ones are becoming run down, renovation is expensive, and new ones are out of the question. As a public resource mostly used by Black and lower-income Americans, their fate is another warning about everything else funded by the public that isn't a fighter jet, corporate subsidy or six-figure salary for cops or consultants.

In the early 2000s, Louisville had 10 public pools for a population of around 550,000.Today, the city has five public pools for a population of around 640,000, ranking 89 out of the largest 100 cities in swimming pools per person, according to Trust for Public Land, an advocacy organization for public parks and land.Algonquin is the only pool left in West Louisville, and residents say the city has neglected basic maintenance and improvements for years.This summer, as temperatures climb to the 90s in Louisville, Algonquin is closed for repairs, leaving around 60,000 people — most of whom are Black and middle-or-lower income households — without convenient access to the water.

As soon as they were desegregated, assigning public money for swimming pools became controversial to liberals and openly unacceptable to conservatives.

Some parts of the South revolted against integration by paving over or draining their pools rather than integrating them. Of the public pools open in 1961 in Mississippi, for example, nearly half had closed by 1972.

As Whites withdrew from public pools and parks, taxpayer funding and support for pools dwindled. In Cleveland, the city's recreation budget was cut by 80%.

Disinvestment in public recreation grew following tax revolts of the late 1970s, Kahrl said. In 1978, California voters passed Proposition 13, which slashed local property tax rates and made it more difficult for the state to fund public recreation.