Thu August 19, 2010
Taking a summer dip...in a dumpster
By Sarah Reynolds
Providence, R.I. – 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.
"Well, you don't really swim in dumpsters much so, you know it's a once in a lifetime opportunity," Preston says.
Across the Northeast people are cooling off wherever they can. On Cape Cod, it's the National Seashore. In Vermont, it's backwoods swimming holes. And in New York City, people are taking a dip right on the street in special pools made out of dumpsters.
The dumpster pools were created and built by MacroSea, a developer that works in city environments.
"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," says MacroSea President David Belt.
New York City has a long history of providing outdoor swimming pools for the public. In the 1960's, 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.
"The water's about 77 degrees," said Eisman McGann. He took a thermometer in the pool with him. Other swimmers commented the temperature was a bit warmer than the morning air.
To enter the pools, the swimmers pass under a showerhead 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.
"This is something different," Wasserman says. "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 twenty minutes though."
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.
"Oh it's fantastic," she says. "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.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Northeast environmental coverage is part of NPR's Local News Initiative.