As the debate continues about how the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium can be re-purposed to meet modern standards for ocean swimming, let’s do some comparison shopping.
Australia’s world-famous rock pools are the best examples on the market. The country has more than 100 public seawater pools on its rocky coastlines, most in and around Sydney in New South Wales. Dr. Marie-Louise McDermott has published several articles on the role of the still-operable baths in Australia’s history. Her research led her to conclude that they are “places of refuge, therapeutic and restorative environments, adventure playgrounds, convivial public spaces, visually appealing cultural landscapes, brands, icons and symbols.” To see Ms. McDermett’s photographs you can visit her flickr photo stream here.
Next let’s turn to Copenhagen harbor in Denmark. It would have been unthinkable to swim alongside the former industrial lands along the City’s shoreline in years past. But the Municipality of Copenhagen has taken proactive steps to make this water safe for swimming. In the past 15 years it has developed four harbor baths, which have become hugely popular among locals and tourists. Water quality is carefully monitored so visitors can be assured that they are not at risk from harmful bacteria. See photos of the most well known of the baths at Islands Brygge here.
The Copenhagen model has proven that pools can co-exist in modern environments where pollution is an issue. Taking it a step further, New York City is now working in close collaboration with a group called +POOL to create a water-filtering floating pool in the Hudson River. According to the +POOL website, the 200’ x 200’ pool would operate “like a giant strainer dropped into the river,” to become an iconic piece of public infrastructure while maintaining high water quality inside the pool.
Finally, we turn to the chilly waters of the St. Lawrence in Montreal, Canada. You might think the cooler climate would deter people away from swimming. Au contraire. Just last week Montreal’s Mayor Dennis Corderre announced a plan to open up the Old Port to build a harbor bath and create a swimmable shoreline in the St. Lawrence River and a unique urban amenity.
The common denominator in these examples is that there is a strong demand to create swimming opportunities in even the most challenging, post-industrial urban environments. Cities have used and are planning to use state-of-the art technology to meet these demands, building iconic aquatic facilities while ensuring the protection of public health and safety. In its decision-making process for the future of the Natatorium, the City of Honolulu has an excellent opportunity to learn from these examples to re-purpose its icon on Waikiki beach.