Thursday, June 13, 2013

How Austin Ranks on Public Pools Access

School's out for summer! And that means lots of swimming for my kids to escape the scorcher heat. One of the things my family has always loved about Austin is all the wonderful swimming options. In my next blog post I plan to list some of our favorite swimming spots in and around Austin. This post is dedicated to how Austin performs when it comes to providing public swimming pools, a key asset in family-friendly cities.

In a 2011 survey of U.S. cities by Trust for Public Land, Austin ranked #11 nationally in terms of public pools per capita, with 4.5 public swimming pools per 100,000 residents (based on pools deeper than 4 feet). This is great news and no surprise given our plethora of public pools. The oldest public pool in Texas (Deep Eddy) is even here in Austin.

However, since the Trust for Public Land survey was conducted, Austin has fallen farther behind on the list and is at risk of plummeting even further down the list if current trends continue. Our population is booming (now at 843,000 residents), but the Parks Department has recently been closing public pools rather than adding them, due to budget cuts adopted by City Council.  It seems that every budget cycle our pools continue to be on the chopping block, or hours are cut back more. When you tally up the public pools listed on the City's website, we are down to 31 pools. These cuts put Austin now at 3.6 public pools per 100,000 residents, or #20. Are more cuts on the way?

In case you are curious, the top ten cities from the Trust for Public Land survey are:

  • Cleveland
  • Cincinnati
  • Birmingham
  • Pittsburgh
  • Tulsa
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Atlanta
  • Philadelphia
  • Denver
  • Tucson
Now let's take a closer look at Austin's public pools and when they are actually open to families for recreational swimming. When you look at the City's posted dates and hours for our public pools, it is quite disconcerting to see what little time our pools are actually open to kids for recreational swimming, especially given our many months of summer-like weather and the physical benefits to kids of swimming. Almost all of our pools are open for only 8-10 weeks during the summer, and many are not open in the mornings. Even more disconcerting is the geographic divide (and racial/socioeconomic divide) in public pool access. I hope that I am missing something in my data analysis that follows and that there really isn't such a stark divide between East and West Austin in terms of public pool access.

Let's take a sunny, hot day in July. It's 10am and you want to take your family swimming at a nearby Austin public pool. Your options for a morning swim, depending on where you live?
  • East Austin*: 1 pool (only Martin--the other pools are only open in the afternoons)
  • South Austin: 5 pools (Barton Springs, Big Stacy, Dick Nichols, Dittmar, Garrison)
  • West Austin: 5 pools (Deep Eddy, Ramsey, Reed, Shipe, and West Enfield)
  • North Austin: 5 pools (Balcones, Canyon Vista, Murchison, Northwest, Walnut Creek)
Now let's take a day in early May or September (when the average high temperature is in the 90s, and the record high was 112°F). It's 4pm, sweltering hot, and you want to take your kids swimming after school or on the weekend at a nearby Austin public pool. Your options?
  • East Austin: 0 pools
  • South Austin: 2 pools 
  • West Austin: 1 pool
  • North Austin: 1 pool
Breaking these geographic areas down even further, Northeast Austin (with high rates of poverty and childhood obesity) has no public pools no matter what time of the year. 

*I am using the Parks Department's geographic categorization of pools here:
East Austin: East of IH-35
South Austin: South of Lady Bird Lake and West of IH-35
West Austin: North of Lady Bird Lake, South of 2222, and West of IH-35
North Austin: North of 2222 and West of IH-35

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your interest in Austin pools! I am a member of a group trying to facilitate building of Bartholomew pool. It has come to our attention that there are financial irregularities concerning this project and the 2006 bond that finances pool construction. We meet almost every Thursday at 6:30 and would like to invite you to attend. If you are interested please email me at