It's not very often that I find myself getting into a swimming pool these days.
When I was a kid, though, on a hot, humid Cincinnati summer day there was no better escape. Lucky for me, my parents paid to send me (and my little sister) to the Powel Crosley Jr. Branch YMCA's Day Camp in the Pines. Every afternoon, if it wasn't storming, we went for a swim in the giant outdoor pool. I also took swimming lessons in the indoor pool during the winter months and learned to jump off the 10-foot diving board (scared out of my mind) and did my first belly-smacker.
Once I got a little older -- the rules said you had to be 9 years old to go to the pool without an adult -- my sister and I, along with my good friend Alan, would go back to the pool at 4 p.m., when camp ended for the day. We'd swim until our parents came and got us, sometimes as late as 7 or 7:30 in the evening.
It was a great way to spend summer vacation, and I think I'm better off for having had those experiences.
I don't know how old I was when I realized that not everyone else had the same opportunities I did and or my family did or many of my friends did. Eventually I came to understand that many children in Greater Cincinnati's urban areas weren't able to attend those same camps and pools.
Because of budget constraints and the ever-increasing need to trim government budgets and reduce taxes, public swimming pools across the city continue to close down, be converted to "spraygrounds" where swimming is impossible or reduce their hours to just a trickle of what they once were. It could be even worse, since it seems that every year someone on City Council, usually Chris Monzel, attempts to roll back the city's property tax rate and potentially take a couple million dollars more out of city coffers.
Like most kids, sadly, I had little idea what it's like to live any life other than my own. Didn't all kids have a camp to go to if they wanted to attend? A pool to swim in all day if they wanted? Two loving parents who cared for their every need?
That life of a suburban Cincinnati middle-class white kid is a far cry from many people who live where I live now, Over-the-Rhine. That's why it's important to keep public pools available and to expand their hours across the city, especially in places like Over-the-Rhine, where opportunities for personal growth for the area's young people are few and far between.
The controversy over whether or not to keep the swimming pool in Washington Park -- nestled in two city blocks inside Race, Elm, 12th and 14th streets -- amidst a months-long discussion about renovating the park begs another question. Is it a good idea to cut back available recreation for a neighborhood full of families who have so few opportunities otherwise?
I figured out a long time ago that rewards come to those who work hard. It took a little while longer for me to realize that sometimes where we ended up had a little bit to do with where we started. And that where we started, much like choosing our parents, wasn't a choice we got to make.
It's simply not fair to penalize the children of any poor city neighborhood by cutting back on something so precious to so many, whether they're using the service every day or not. Even the $5 fee Cincinnati requires in order to get a yearly pass for the pool is out of reach for many kids who are under the care of a single parent.
That's why I find it so important -- not to mention the right and moral thing to do -- that the city care for those less fortunate without regard to how they got into their situation. As the Cincinnati Recreation Commission, the entity charged with managing the city's pools, moves forward with its new pool master plan, I hope its leaders consider how their decisions affect those who live near the pools.
City government shoud remember that its goal should be to make Cincinnati a better place for every person to live -- not just some or most.
Contact Joe Wessels: firstname.lastname@example.org