My Tribeca co-op used to be steps away from a grocery store, a fish market, two health-food shops, and a butcher, a baker, and a couple of candlestick makers. Over the years, these businesses have been replaced by empty storefronts, exercise studios, banks, and grooming salons. Now I have to shop online for basic food items like my favorite squiggly pasta and mini cans of soda. But in this increasingly amenity-free neighborhood, if I want to go swimming, I have my choice of at least six public indoor pools.
I don’t understand why.
Maybe the proliferation of swimming pools has been inspired by Tribeca’s proximity to the Hudson River, a body of water people love to look at but don’t want to touch, except for industrial divers who repair the river’s piers and my scuba-diving daughter who volunteers to look for signs of marine life in its murky broth.
When I moved here in 1986, taxi drivers needed directions to find Tribeca, and the area’s only grocery store was still new – yet the neighborhood’s first public swimming pool was already in operation in the Borough of Manhattan Community College building across the street from my co-op. For a nominal fee, the area’s then mostly low- and middle-income residents were given access on weekends to the school’s competition-size pool.
I enrolled my children in the toddler swim class but quit when the instructor said I had to jump in with them. Having learned as a child to swim in an outdoor community pool on Long Island that was kept just a few degrees from forming ice, I now refuse to willingly get in any body of water that’s not within 5 degrees of my body temperature.
The next decade brought another large indoor pool. In 1992, Stuyvesant High School relocated to my neighborhood, a few blocks from the Community College pool. The pool in this luxurious new public high school was decorated with bottled samples from noted bodies of water, like the Nile, the Tiber, and the Thames. Stuy’s pool was also open on weekends to the changing neighborhood’s now more middle- and upper-income residents. But the water was even colder than the Community College pool’s. Oblivious to the temperature, my children enjoyed splashing around while I watched from the relative warmth of the deck.
In the 2000’s, lap pools were included in many of Tribeca’s new upscale buildings and in high-end renovations in private residences. And still, it wasn’t enough. New public pools opened in the neighborhood within blocks of each other in 2008 and 2010. In my building, some of us even joked about turning our commercial space into a lap pool. But neither the growing number of local swimming facilities nor my co-op’s fantasy lap pool could deter me from my own water-related exercise routine: walking or biking alongside the Hudson River.
My turn to the wet side didn’t begin until 2013, when the area’s newest, biggest indoor public pool opened two blocks from the Stuyvesant High School pool and across the street from my mother’s apartment building, which also has a small pool. Locals, who were offered membership discounts, assured me this new pool was the warmest in the neighborhood. Given my temperature requirements, I was not optimistic.
What caught my attention was that, unlike other neighborhood pools, this one was visible from the sidewalk. After visiting my mother, I would cross the street, pause at the large windows and watch swimmers glide along lanes in the large and, in off-hours, mostly empty pool. I would make a mental note to call for a tour, but I didn’t for several years – and then I did.
I woke up on a Saturday morning last fall having dreamed that I was the person swimming in that pool. Thinking this might be a sign, I finally walked over and took a tour. The water was indeed warmer than in other neighborhood pools, but barely. If I joined, I would need new swimwear, preferably designed to minimize contact with the water. Unfortunately, the neighborhood sporting-gear store went out of business last year, making way for another boutique hotel. So I mapped out a citywide scavenger hunt for a full-body bathing suit, a snorkel, and oversized swim goggles.
But join I did. Now I spend an hour most days either walking alongside the Hudson River or swimming in a pool near its eastern bank. While the block I live on no longer has a shoe-repair shop, a pet store, pizza by the slice, or places to buy a greeting card or a bottle of wine, at 9 o’clock at night I can have two lifeguards watching over me as I swim in a cocoon of peaceful silence in a large, almost warm pool. Afterward, I dry off and walk toward my apartment, stopping for a bite at the trusty old diner, the only restaurant on my amenity-free block that still serves supper after 10 P.M.