Swimming pools offer new perspective of Los Angeles

By Andrew Kallick
University of Southern California

For years, pundits have segmented the neighborhoods of Los Angeles by demographic categories. Now, two scientists are straying away from average family income and average level of education, and have identified a new mechanism to differentiate certain areas of Los Angeles from others. Their tool? Swimming pools.

A little over a year ago, German Graphic Designer Benedikt Gross arrived in Los Angeles for the very first time. From the window seat of the airplane, Gross was astonished by the amount of swimming pools that he could see during his descent.

Click here to view a photo slideshow about the swimming pools of Los Angeles.

Gross teamed up with Joseph Lee, a research assistant at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the two scholars used a form of some of the counting skills they learned in Kindergarten to conduct their research.

The “poolologists” discovered 43,123 pools in the Los Angeles Basin and published their findings in the "Big Atlas of L.A. Pools." All of the research was discovered through sources that are readily available to the general public.

"At first, the project was mostly just an experiment to see whether or not we could locate and draw all the pools from aerial imagery we acquired," Lee said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. "It's creepy to know that encoded in the freely available information are very personal details that you may not want others to know."

One key finding of the study was the city with the largest amount of pools per capita was Beverly Hills. Beverly Hills had a total of 2,481 swimming pools while the South Los Angeles cities of Watts and Florence have none.

According to the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, there are only 23 swimming pools that are available year-round to the public.

Many swimmers and parents of swimmers have trouble finding public pools that meet their needs. Pools in some areas are considered unsafe. Others are not open year-round.

The John C. Argue Pool is known by swimmers as one of the safest and best public swimming pools in Los Angeles.

“After doing swimming and water polo for so long, it’s like you build another family here,” Swimmer Christian Ortiz said of the John C. Argue Pool. “I feel like this keeps us out of trouble so when you go to other pools, there are gangs around the area and over here, you just have different types of people.”

Ortiz says he decided to become a lifeguard because he knows how big of a role the swimming pool played in his upbringing.

“After doing this for so long, it kept me from hanging out in the streets with my friends,” Ortiz said. “And I fell in love with the sport. So yeah, I do think [the pool] changed my life.”

According to Maria Desantos, a mother of two swimmers at the pool, safety is her number one concern when figuring out what swimming pool best fits the needs of her children.

“We come from the South Bay because it’s our best option,” Desantos said. “I’m not going to let my sons swim in a pool with the crazies around.”

The video, article and photo slideshow are by Andrew Kallick. He can be contacted here.