Can swimming pools help deter crime?

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In August 1969, New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay flew to the Bronx by helicopter to commemorate the opening of two new municipal swimming pools, each decorated with murals and built with great investments of hope. He took the opportunity to announce that there are many more swimming pools planned for the city. Swimming pool construction had been behind schedule in New York City since the Depression, when the Works Progress Administration oversaw the creation of some of the most impressive recreation facilities ever built in the country. Lindsay was embarking on a new era of aquatic innovation.

Progressives like him believed that swimming pools were essential in urban settings for cooling bodies and moods, for diffusing the tensions so surely incubated in the heat. For decades, swimming pools had served multiple functions, such as escape and safety net. What if there were even more?

In 1967, Lindsay had served as vice chairman of the Kerner Commission, a task force created by President Lyndon B. Johnson to investigate the causes of race riots that had broken out in cities across the country the previous summer. The group concluded that relentless racism had driven so many black lives into misery and that frustration, rage and violence were the inevitable results. Solutions had to be found, the report determined, in the delivery of stronger social services, better and safer neighborhoods and more responsive police services.

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