Is It Fair to Close a Pool in Brownsville?

Four public pools, including one in Brooklyn, could close—and all other city pools could close two weeks early this year—if the parks department doesn’t get $1.5 million. The shutdowns would disproportionately affect communities of color: East Harlem, Port Richmond, Brownsville. “Our decision was based on several factors, including attendance figures, proximity to other pools, access to public transit and the location of the pools relative to residential communities,” the parks commissioner told the city council last week. And that seems true, at least in the case of Brownsville: the pool threatened with closure, the Howard Pool, in the backyard of the Howard Houses, is roughly a mile away from Brownsville’s Betsy Head Pool.

In Brooklyn, public swimming pools exist largely in communities of color: there’s no pool in Bay Ridge, but there’s one in Sunset Park; there’s not one in Carroll Gardens, but there is one in Red Hook and one a few blocks from the Gowanus Houses. There are pools in Bed-Stuy, Fort Greene, and Bushwick (and, well, also Mill Basin). This was, in part, by design: in the early 70s, several public pools were built near public housing projects, the most pool construction in the city—19 in total—since Mayor LaGuardia’s WPA pools. (Howard is a 70s pool; Betsy Head is a WPA pool.)

But the idea that, because Brownsville has two pools, they can afford to lose one of them is ridiculous. It’s not like the city is spending disproportionate amounts of money on quality-of-life amenities in Brownsville, and it looks particularly distasteful to just a year ago have spent $50 million on a multi-year restoration of the McCarren Pool on the border of ascendantly gentrified Williamsburg and Greenpoint. (I’m aware that capital funds and operational funds come from different wells, but it’s a matter of appearances.) In contrast, “Mayor Giuliani funded a $2,131,000 renovation of [Howard Pool in 1993],” according to the parks department website (roughly $3.4 million in 2012 dollars).

As a state senator, public-advocate candidate Daniel Squadron helped raise $400,000 in state funds last year for the opening of a pop-up pool in Brooklyn Bridge Park (in predominately white Brooklyn Heights) that can accommodate 60 swimmers at a time. It’ll “be open for at least five years and has a sandy beach, lounge chairs, picnic tables and a concession stand,” New York Press reported. But we might close a pool in Brownsville (which, incidentally, accommodates 180 people)?


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