Mayor Kenney should channel Ed Rendell’s mind and open all pools, despite financial difficulties

This week, the administration of Mayor Jim Kenney blames the effect of COVID-19 on the recruitment of lifeguards for the reason why not all municipal swimming pools open. (Full disclosure, I worked at the Mayor’s Office 2016-2019.)

I am not convinced. After all, in 1992, Mayor Ed Rendell reopened the pools as the city was on the verge of bankruptcy and Philly was, in the words of the New York Times, “Plagued by violence, drugs, AIDS and unemployment.” Why doesn’t Mayor Kenney have the courage or political acumen to do the same, instead of blaming COVID-19 for not opening the pools?

To be fair, most pools open. In a typical year, the city has around 70 swimming pools. This year it was going to be 68. But it’s about 20 less instead. And the poorest postcodes in Philly bear the brunt of the closures: Of nearly 50 postcodes in Philly, only four had two pools closed. They are some of the poorest zip codes in town: 19133, 19134, 19122 and 19123.

Speaking with Maita Soukup, spokesperson for Philly Parks and Recreation, I asked why poorer neighborhoods are getting more pool closures. She insisted it was an unfortunate coincidence. It sounds bad, sure, but there is no malicious intent – at least, to me, in the conscious and explicit sense of bias. But it’s hard to watch this and not see America’s long-standing brutalization of the poor, especially blacks, by implicitly manifesting itself in an otherwise mundane administrative practice.

READ MORE: Here are the city pools that will open in Philly this summer

The City determined which pools to close using a variety of parameters, including attendance from previous years and proximity to other pools. North Philadelphia has a large concentration of swimming pools, according to city thought, so closing a couple there – as opposed, say, northeast Philly which has fewer swimming pools – will have an impact. lesser on residents.

Or will he do it?

City services are concentrated in areas for a reason, and extremely hot areas compared to other parts of the city with little green space, like North Philly, should probably have more pools. The property of the administration Office of Sustainability points to North Philly like an area in dire need of cooling off.

That’s not to say the city had it easy when it came to opening swimming pools. It is true that COVID-19 presented logistical challenges. Lifeguards follow a two-year certification schedule, so a summer off is decimating the pool of candidates.

And until recently, the City was unsure whether enough vaccines would be made to allow us to relax indoor gathering bans. Given that the City relies on indoor pools on school district property for training and certification, and was unable to do so this year, this was a serious obstacle. It is a testament to their hard work that we have rescuers.

They even spent time and resources heating an outdoor pool in the winter so they could meet social distancing requirements and have as many lifeguards as possible. They have launched a huge recruitment campaign.

But as it happens all over the country, the workers were not moving at the announced departure rate. A paltry increase of 50 cents did not solve the problem either.

Today, instead of the 350 to 400 rescuers the city needs for full operations, we have just over half of them.

This is a problem caused by a city council that did not prioritize swimming pools during the budget process and a city administration that is now more interested in standing still than swimming.

Why hasn’t the City done more? Why not undermine coastal towns and offer rescuers a special post-COVID rate of $ 25 per hour?

Avalon and Stone Harbor both increased lifeguard departure hourly rates to $ 20 an hour which put an end to their recruitment problems. “Where guards were hard to find in 2019, the Avalon Patrol is now pushing back candidates,” Josh Axelrod reports for “Currently, the patrol has 15 places and 137 candidates. “

READ MORE: Why Urban Swimming Pools Matter and How to Find a Pool in Philly This Summer | Elizabeth wellington

The City tells me that the lifeguard is a civil service position bound by these rules in terms of remuneration. But creative problem solving and coalition building are part of governance. Why couldn’t our elected leaders work with our unions on a special post-pandemic initiative to serve the city’s most vulnerable residents?

Parks and Rec offers our most vulnerable residents life-saving, evidence-based programs. The City in turn expects them to perform miracles on a tight budget.

Shutting down libraries, shutting down swimming pools, paying a pittance to these workers and balancing the budget on the backs of neighborhood children has been our City’s approach for too long.

Any closed swimming pool is unacceptable.

Remember the photo of Ed Rendell in a swimsuit happily jumping in a municipal swimming pool alongside children screaming with joy? Not only did Rendell open the pools in the midst of a dire financial situation, he also ran for mayor and was ready to do something silly that sent a vitally important message: we are all in the same boat and some things are just too important not to do.

Josh Kruger is an award-winning (and loser) writer in Philadelphia.

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