I’d like to ask a provocative question: have swimming pools become obsolete?
That might seem surprising coming from an aquatic professional who earns his living in the pool/spa/aquatics industry, and it’s a question I’ve never heard from any other professional, or consumer for that matter. Yet, I think it’s something worth considering as we look to the future of the aquatic experience and where we stand today.
Are pools, in reality, becoming obsolete? Are they a feature more of the past than the future? The answers are both more subtle and profound than one might initially suspect.
On the most literal level, we know that many pools, especially those that serve the general public, have old, worn-out equipment and doggy designs that have become dated and need replacing. Upgrading equipment or aesthetic elements can be quite expensive, and as a result, many resource-strapped facilities are forced to keep their old and inadequate systems operating for as long as possible.
But that’s only part of the answer to the question of obsolescence. There’s a broader context ahead of the inevitability of outdated facilities that is far more important. I’m talking about the social relevance and economic sustainability of pools as it applies to commercial and public facilities, but also in the residential market, as well.
Every year, there’s a familiar litany of troublesome narratives that accompany the swimming season. The media is full of reports about infectious contamination in pool and spa water and how consumers should be wary of possible diseases they and their children could contract from being in water that contains a host of infectious pathogens with horrible sounding names. We hear about traces of urine and feces in water, as well as respiratory and skin ailments that can go along with it.
As disturbing as those reports may be, they pale in comparison to the tragedy of child drowning and the hazards of being in or around the water. It’s the most difficult topic for the entire aquatics industry, a brutal challenge we all must do a better job addressing and solving.
Not surprisingly, each year there are more and more reports of public pools closing, almost always for lack of funding, and there are also the stories about consumers filling in their backyard pools. Now, I’m not a negative person by nature, but I do think it’s critical for our industry to look at these trends in order to identify and implement practical solutions.
So, do all of those negatives add up to the stark realization that pools have, indeed, become obsolete? I believe the answer is both yes and no.
Obviously, the state of the aquatics industry is not where it should be, and if we want to thrive as a viable part of the recreational economy, we have to up our game, which is the primary subject of these discussions. That’s why I’m so passionate about the advent of the water quality professional, which I see as one of the most important evolutionary steps we must take. In terms of technology, we can embrace a far more scientific and data-driven approach to maintaining healthy pools, and we should promote more systematic procedures for everything from initial design to how daily maintenance unfolds.
In many ways, our future will be defined by our ability to embrace a far more technically disciplined way of engineering and managing all aspects of water quality and the overall environment. That’s why we need to develop the professional category of the water quality manager.
For all of the challenges and potential solutions we face going forward, it’s also equally critical that we embrace the positive side of the discussion. In many very important ways, pools will never be obsolete. On the most fundamental level, the desire for water experiences is no different in human beings than it has been since the dawn of time. People will always want to cool off when it’s hot; swimming will always be the best and most enjoyable way to stay fit; kids will always want to splash and play in water. Aquatic spaces will always be the best places to share time with family and friends, and for reasons that will never be fully defined by science, we will always be drawn to the water’s edge.
All that dreamy stuff may be highly emotional in nature, but it’s also the most practical aspects of the aquatics professions. The subjective nature of our relationship with water is why the pool and spa industry exists in the first place. The experience will never become obsolete because it’s hardwired in the human psyche. As aquatic professionals, our objective should be to deliver those timeless experiences by providing environments that are as safe and well maintained as humanely possible.
It’s the classic yin and yang, the sense and sensibility. The hard science and technology exists entirely to support the temporal human experience. In manmade environments that contain recreational water, you cannot have the experience without the technical mastery, while at the exact same time all the know-how and ingenuity in the world is useless without the joy and happiness the experience brings.
By overcoming issues of waterborne diseases and bather safety, while increasing convenience, reducing downtime and supporting energy efficiency, we remove obstacles to the consumer water experience. When the right technology and system engineering is applied in a well-run facility, there’s a beautiful dance between science and the art of water. Put another way, a “smart” pool is a “happy” pool.
Certainly, we should also embrace the evolution in demand and consumer expectations that have occurred in recent years. Make no mistake, we do see many pools that feature stunning aesthetic designs, which are grand expressions of the modern world, and some are downright futuristic. Modern waterparks, for example, push the envelope in terms of interactive designs and fountain technology which has given us a universe of visual spectacles. It’s amazing what happens when the imagination is unlocked by technical skill and achievement.
To return to the original question, are pools obsolete?
They certainly don’t have to be, and that’s what this journey is all about.
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About the Author
Steve Kenny is an aquatic designer, builder, and service technician with more than 25 years of experience. Based in Long Island, New York, he specializes in designing, building, and maintaining commercial and residential pools and spas that feature the highest possible water quality.
He is a passionate advocate of creating a new class of aquatic professionals devoted to the science, methods, and art of ensuring pristine water conditions. Steve was formally trained in the culinary arts and has a passion for fine dining. He is an accomplished photographer and sailing enthusiast. He is also a passionate advocate of the benefits of hydrotherapy.
A devoted family man, Steve lives in East Hampton with his bride of 20 years and their three children.