Let’s Swim in New York City’s Rivers

How + POOL makes swimming in polluted rivers possible, and why we need it.


Taylor Chapman

Joanna Zhao ’20 supports building a Plus Pool in the Hudson River. “I think it shows New York’s initiative to promote a better environment using science,” Zhao said.

For New York City residents, the filth of our rivers is a well known reality. Joanna Zhao ’20 is on the Girls’ Varsity Swim Team at Bronx Science. But even with her love for swimming, when I asked her if she would like to take a dip in the Hudson or East River on a hot day, she laughed. “There’s a bunch of pollution and stuff in there,” she told me. Understandable, of course. If the river was clean, swimming in it would probably seem a lot more approachable. But with the condition of New York City’s rivers, at first it seems that is not happening any time soon. But what if the idea of swimming in clean river water was not such a far-fetched reality?

In the promotional video on + POOL’s website, the issue is outlined perfectly. Although the memory is quickly fading, there was a time when New Yorkers would swim in our rivers regularly. In fact, the Hudson had floating baths up and down the coast throughout the early 1900’s. But as pollution rates climbed, people slowly stopped the tradition. In the video on + POOL’s website, Neil Patrick Harris narrates, “The rivers have been off limits so long that people forgot how weird it is that we don’t actually swim in them. But things are about to change.”

“The rivers have been off limits so long that people forgot how weird it is that we don’t actually swim in them. But things are about to change.”

+ POOL wants to bring back the tradition of swimming in the river by building a floating pool that doubles as a giant filter. The pool would be shaped like a plus sign, filter the water without chemicals, and would be Olympic sized. It would be open to the public, provide for local residents, and teach children the value of science in environmental movements.

The project is not floating yet, but it is non-profit called Friends of + Pool has already started helping local communities. STEM + POOL is a curriculum designed to teach children about water quality, the importance of science and design in solving environmental problems, and “empowering youth through a real-life example of designers taking initiative to better their city.”

Summer Bluefish is a free swim camp for NYCHA residents which provides all the supplies needed to learn how to swim, including bathing suits and swim caps. The nonprofit also has a Green Infrastructure curriculum, public art displays teaching about water quality, and much more. Every step of the way, the people pushing +POOL forwards are motivated by helping their local communities. I had the immense privilege of talking with the Deputy Director of + POOL, Kara Meyer. She told me, “+ POOL is a group of people coming together in a community to build something that will benefit all. It’s an incredible thing to be a part of.”

+ POOL was originally supposed to float by the summer of 2017, but is still looking for a home today. Currently, the founders are looking into to potential sites in Manhattan. To help get + POOL floating as soon as possible, everyone needs to chip in. Kara said it best: “Not only is there room for everyone to help, we need it! Youth have a powerful voice in their families, in their school, on the internet! The more people learn about + POOL, the more people will understand that + POOL is not just a crazy idea, it’s a crazy idea that brings people together to make the seemingly impossible, possible. And one day, we’ll all wonder what it was like when we didn’t swim in the river.”

+ POOL website: https://www.pluspool.org/