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A pond in a park : social geographies of adolescents at public swimming pools in Tasmania


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Gould, SE 2010 , 'A pond in a park : social geographies of adolescents at public swimming pools in Tasmania', Coursework Master thesis, University of Tasmania.

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It is widely accepted that there are significant nourishing social and physical health
benefits from being outdoors in natural environments, such as parklands, beaches and
forests. While a public outdoor swimming pool is traditionally identified as a sporting
venue, I propose in this study that it can be considered as a body of water in a
community parkland setting. This broader description focuses attention on how
public outdoor swimming pools can contribute to the physical and social health of a
community in diverse ways, as an outdoor public space. A finding from the field
research, is that public outdoor pools are a common space for people of diverse social
groups to interact and co-exist. Getting into the water or being around the pool, is the
reason for being at the spaces of a pool rather than a waterless park, but the research
showed that swimming in a horizontal position was, usually, not the reason for getting
in the water. The main reason for being at the pool was social - to be amongst other
people with friends, in or out of the water. However the focus shape of the pool for
competition may inhibit inclusive social uses.
This research was undertaken at four public outdoor pools in Launceston, Tasmania,
in the summer school holidays of January 2010, on warm to hot afternoons. Out of 30
direct observations and 100 indirect observations, for an average of 33 minutes
duration, just 21 seconds or 1% was spent swimming in a horizontal position — in
chunks of 2 to 4 seconds. Chatting, watching and playing occupied 82% of the time
at the pool and 71% was spent in the water or at the edges of the water. Another
finding was that the swimming abilities of all people at the pools (excluding the
competitive swimmers observed) when they did swim horizontally, was of a poor
standard for adequate life preserving skills in a critical situation. Tasmania with a
population of 500,000 people has 9 x 50 m swimming pools and at least 80 swimming
pools where school lessons are taught and the public can use. Swimming skills noted
in field research do not reflect the use of these venues for skill acquisition. Only 50%
of 11 year old Tasmanian children achieve national swimming skill benchmarks.
This study explores the potential for enhancing social capital in public spaces, in the
context of one specific social grouping — adolescents. Youth tend to be marginalised
and criminalised for their play in public spaces, a process of exclusion that can inhibit
their citizenship behaviours and reduce social cohesion. This censure is evident at the public pools studied. One research question asked: "how would you make the pool
more user friendly?" revealed that the play and social needs of youth were
inadequately catered for. I conclude this is due to the shape of the pool - designed for
competition, not enough deep water, restrictions on risky activity, not enough semiprivate
spaces, and under staffing of pools by lifeguards/activity supervisors.
Many of the pools in Australia and Tasmania are old and in need of renovation or
demolition. Outdoor pools are valuable amenities worthy of preservation and
regeneration, but how they are to be renovated requires a re-conception of their
functions and uses. The research indicates that re-imagining an outdoor pool, as a
metaphorical 'pond in a park' is one archetypal model. Historically, swimming pools
originated as public bathing houses in England based on angular functionalistic
Roman architecture. Socially they were built to get physically and morally 'clean',
and then later to train young people in an authoritarian militaristic style for
nationalistic projects. These 'moral projects' are not as relevant in the 2lst C.
Furthermore, 21st C sedentary lifestyles and privatisation of social life are a rising
concern. Both organised and casual activities at pools have adapted to the historical
design of swimming pools. These activities are now either culturally accepted or
institutionalised so the expectation at many levels is that the design of new swimming
pools will serve these activities that originally evolved largely from the design of the
pools themselves. For example there are no 'steeplechase' obstacle swimming races.
Swimming pool designs are not keeping up with other outdoor type playgrounds and
parks that are using sensory stimulus, and bio-mimetic features to meet some social
and physical health issues that can be eased by contact with nature, in its broadest
sense. Children's play is more inclusive, creative and active, in playgrounds with
rocks, logs, ditches and mounds, than on colourful, prefabricated equipment. Aquatic
parallels have not yet been fully developed.
The research contributes knowledge to the possible solutions of a dilemma, 'what to
do with the old pool' by demonstrating that there is more socialising happening at
pools than there is swimming horizontally. As there is a decline in public spaces,
public swimming pools have the potential to be a nourishing, vibrant space with a
high user density, for the building of trust, social networks and self-regulating
behaviours that build social capital. Re-imagining a swimming pool as a
metaphorical 'pond in a park' is stepping stone to this end.

Item Type: Thesis - Coursework Master
Authors/Creators:Gould, SE
Keywords: Swimming pools, Teenagers, Public spaces, Recreation areas
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2010 the author

Additional Information:

Available for use in the Library and copying in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968, as amended. Thesis (MEnvMgt)--University of Tasmania, 2010. Includes bibliographical references. Ch. 1. From bathing houses to swimming pools: instruments of profound social change -- Ch. 2. Youth public space and swimming pools -- Ch. 3. The potential of a public swimming pool; affordances

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