What’s missing in that picture? Kids enjoying a city wading pool on a sunny Sunday afternoon — according to people who live near that pool, which is in the park next to Delridge Community Center. It’s always closed on Sundays – as are the two other wading pools in eastern West Seattle (Hughes and Highland Park), as well as not-too-distant South Park wading pool, while the two wading pools in western West Seattle (Lincoln Park and Hiawatha) are open seven days a week. In correspondence with the concerned neighbors, as well as in a response to a WSB inquiry, the Parks Department says the wading-pool schedule is carefully considered by geography. More on that ahead – but first, we took a look at the online citywide schedule and made this map, with blue markers showing the 7-day-a-week pools/spray features and red markers showing the ones closed Sundays (most of those are closed both weekend days, with a few exceptions; Delridge is open Saturdays):
View Larger Map
The schedules aren’t new but the Sunday closures became particularly glaring for neighbors in the 90-degree heat a week ago, when the pool had a “rogue opening” as one neighbor described it, after somebody figured out how to turn on the water – and now they are trying to get the Parks Department to make a change – read on:
The website for Seattle Parks and Recreation’s wading pools exhorts, “As an element of the City’s water conservation effort, we’re encouraging people to use public wading pools rather than fill their home “kiddy pools” or run backyard sprinklers.” But on Sundays, that’s impossible for people in eastern West Seattle neighborhoods to do – without a car trip (or a multiple-transfer bus trip). So Delridge residents are pressing the city to make a change.
West Seattle has five city-operated wading pools. On Sundays, only two of them are open — both in western West Seattle; the three in eastern West Seattle are closed, as are the ones in semi-nearby South Park and Georgetown, as you can see on the map above.
The push for change started with Delridge residents Jerry and Betsy Hoffmeister pointing out the situation on the North Delridge Neighborhood Council mailing list. Trying to find out why it and the other eastern West Seattle wading pools, as well as South Park, aren’t open on Sundays, they and others contacted the Parks Department and got this reply (note, though a total of 25 wading pools are mentioned in the following correspondence, the city website lists 30, including the five “spray features,” so that’s what you see on the map above). First, city aquatics manager Kathy Whitman replied to them, in part:
On Sunday, nine wading pools are open [citywide] and 16 are closed. In West Seattle, both Hiawatha and Lincoln are open.
This is not a recent schedule change. The Sunday sites were established a number of years ago based on 1) providing some geographic balance and 2) attendance numbers. We have published a schedule for 2008 and it would be difficult to make adjustments for this year.
We will monitor attendance numbers closely this year and see if a change is warranted for 2009. The number of budgeted days of operation will not change, but we can see if a shift of locations might better serve the community. …
Concurrently at the end of last week, we asked Parks Department spokesperson Dewey Potter for a comment on the wading-pool situation, and received a similar response:
A great deal of staff work and thought goes into the wading pool schedule with a particular emphasis on geographic distribution. A secondary consideration is annual attendance. For the purposes of identifying work areas, Parks considers three zones in the city: north, central, and south. …
Sunday openings: Nine are open, 16 are closed. Sunday sites were chosen some years back based on geographic distribution and attendance numbers. They include the big three [WSB note – that’s Volunteer Park, Green Lake, and Lincoln Park] and:
Bitter Lake – North
East Queen Anne – Central
Hiawatha – South
Van Asselt – South
View Ridge – North
Wallingford – North
… While it is too late to make adjustments for 2008, Parks staff will watch the attendance numbers carefully with an eye to adjustments to the schedule in 2009, depending on our budget.
Subsequently, Delridge resident Nancy Folsom wrote back to aquatics manager Kathy Whitman:
… I respect that you are responsible for the safe and appropriate use of wading pools. I don’t have the data upon which the decision about pool schedules was made. Perhaps you could make them available if you think it would help us. You do mention the schedule has been set for a number of years. Perhaps it bears revisiting?
In lieu of your data, I researched the City’s publicly available demographic data. From it I find the assessment that Hiawatha and Lincoln represents a geographic balance is plainly wrong.
… Hiawatha and Lincoln do balance the geographic area north to south, but they certainly do not balance the area east to west. Expanding the idea of balance to population, and looking at the unintended consequences of the schedule, the schedule choices represent a gross unbalance.
With regard to age, race, and income, I considered Seattle’s publicly available demographic information.
This map makes the income disparity plain. (It) shows the following:
– The high income areas of West Seattle (west of 35th) have two pools, and both are open 7 days a week.
– The low income areas of West Seattle have four pools [including South Park]. Two are open 6 days, and two are open only on weekdays.
This link is a map that will illustrate the breakdown of race and age in West Seattle. From it you can see for yourself that the low income area also has the higher proportion of non-white residents and residents under the age of 18.
From these data, I conclude that the very people most needing an accessible and affordable way to cool off on days that warrant a heat advisory (as last weekend did):
1) have the most people of the age to use wading pools
2) are the very people who probably don’t have access to air conditioning
3) can’t easily pack the kids in a car and drive to another wading pool.
Your letter mentioned that the schedules were in part based on attendance numbers. I don’t know if that means that pools were once open, but under-used, on Sundays, or whether it refers to the number of community members who were able to make their voices heard. We, on the east side of 35th, do have a large immigrant and refugee population. Also, people with low-incomes are frequently working two jobs, going to school, and busy parenting. So, many of us simply don’t have the resources to discover, much less advocate for, city resources.
On this last point, I am fumbling in the dark, since I don’t know what the attendance basis was. I do know that it will be difficult for you to reassess based on attendance since, as you’ve said, the schedules are already set. Perhaps the attendance at the rogue opening [one week ago] Sunday, though, is useful information?
I believe the city’s choices were not intended as classist or racist. Unfortunately, the effect is socially unjust. One cannot disown the effects of a choice no matter how well intended the choice was. I look forward to
your office reconsidering the bases upon which the schedules are decided.
As we were working on this report, another exchange ensued this morning; Whitman reiterating that the city will take another look for 2009, and Folsom reiterating a request for a response to her contention that Sunday pool availability in this area is not equitable if you consider socioeconomic demographics. It should also be noted that eastern West Seattle also is currently without a fullscale swimming pool, because of the summerlong Southwest Pool closure for renovations and upgrades (WSB report here). We’ll update you as this develops.