The Re-birth of the Mccarren Park Pool Started with One Woman: Noémie Lafrance

This is what the pool used to look like, back when dinosaurs in truckers hats roamed Williamsburg.
  • This is what the pool used to look like, back when dinosaurs in truckers’ hats roamed Williamsburg.

You know how one human year is like seven dog years? Well, one human year is like one million Williamsburg years. So, the year 2005? In Williamsburg years? That’s when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Dinosaurs wearing, like, truckers’ hats. It was a long time ago. And yet, way way wayyyy back then, one woman saw a graffiti-ridden, garbage strewn pit and decided to make it something better, something beautiful.

That woman, Noémie Lafrance, is why McCarren Park Pool exists in its current state and why, barring the errant piece of poop floating by, we get to enjoy another public pool in Brooklyn all summer long.

The Wall Street Journal reports on one of the first people to see the potential in the derelict space that in now full of highly chlorinated water and covertly back-flipping teenagers. Noémie Lafrance tells the WSJ how, in late 2004, she “approached the office of the Brooklyn Parks Commissioner, who at the time was Julius Spiegel, about using the site for a new dance work. According to the Parks Department, community lobbying for the renovation was strong, and a task force was working on ideas.”

However, nothing was actually being done at that point, so when Ms. Lafrance “brought her specific idea and asked permission to use the dry pool, the response was that the site was in such poor condition that the public could not be allowed in before a long list of repairs was accomplished.” Rather than accepting the situation and waiting for the city to clean up the site, Ms. Lafrance used a to-do list provided by the city and started negotiating on how best to fix up the space. At the same time “the huge concert promoter Live Nation, hoping to present concerts at the pool, put $200,000 toward the clean-up.”

In September of 2005, Ms. Lafrance’s presented a three-week run of the dance performance “Agora.” This was the first time the space had been used in 21 years. By 2006, Live Nation had begun its more high profile events and the rest is what we call HISTORY.

Although Ms. Lafrance is not opposed to the current state of McCarren Park Pool, she sounded a bit bittersweet when talking about the fate of those—usually artists or other innovators—who recognize the beauty and potential in a space before being pushed aside for something more commercial. Ms. Lafrance told the Journal, “Everybody talks about making the city better, but when we do that, there’s no support. You feel like no matter how big of a gesture you might have made, you still need to start over from zero tomorrow.”

It’s hard out there for a trailblazer.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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