TYPICAL POOL: The Pop-Up Pool team hopes to bring additional life to Philadelphia’s public pools, which typically include clean water, a concrete deck and fence, but not much else
Mica Root, phillypublicpools.com TYPICAL POOL: The Pop-Up Pool team hopes to bring additional life to Philadelphia’s public pools, which typically include clean water, a concrete deck and fence, but not much else

Public pools are a boon to their local communities, bringing people together and providing them with a luxury that many cannot afford. Unfortunately, the traditional public pool doesn’t feature much in the way of amenities.

Pools in Philadelphia might gain more bells and whistles now that a pilot project will receive funding by the Knight Foundation. Recently, the organization distributed a $5 million grant among 32 winners from 12 U.S. cities.

The Pop-Up Pools Project was one of seven winners from the East Coast city. The project, created by Camden, N.J.-based urban planning firm Group Melvin Design, was awarded $297,000.

The project’s goal, as described in the grant application, is to “introduce low-cost, high-impact design interventions throughout the city’s outdoor pool system to reimagine Philadelphia’s public pools as unique, vibrant and multipurpose summertime civic destinations.”

The City of Brotherly Love ranks among U.S. cities with the most public pools per capita, boasting 70 outdoor pools in a 100-square-mile area. By comparison, New York has 56 pools serving more than 8 million residents.

But most Philly pools only have the basics — clean water, concrete deck, some kind of fence. “After the cooling effect of the water wears off, and you’re baking in the sun on the concrete, there’s nothing to keep people there,” said Ben Bryant, GMD’s director of planning and design.

With the Pop-Up Pool Project, Bryant wants to make the pools more user friendly, interest new users and bring the community closer together.

But why pop-ups? Those familiar with the retail industry might have heard the term. In that world, businesses set up temporary stores and utilize events to sell products and revitalize a space, usually empty or abandoned stores.

This approach is perfect for Philadelphia, considering the fleeting nature of its swim season, Bryant said: “Even though ‘pop-up park’ as a term is new, the seasonal public pool is the original pop-up park.”

This summer GMD, in conjunction with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, will test the project at a pilot pool. GMD also is working with a landscape architecture firm, Sikora Wells Appel, and a local park group, the Fairmount Park Conservancy. The funding just came through in March, so the team is still picking out what will be available and where. Bryant hopes to launch the pilot test in mid-June.

Based on research into what people buy for their own pools, Bryant said the pilot pool will get amenities such as movable furniture, planters and lighting.

The pilot pool will help inform future pop-up pools. “What we want to do this summer is something that is transferrable and scalable,” Bryant said. “If we design a custom piece … we’re going to try to make it something modular, [with] different iterations or more components that could be deployed at various sites.”

He hopes this project will inspire neighborhoods to create their own pop-up parks for their pools.

“We’re helping people reimagine what the Philly pool system can be,” he said.

GMD already has some experience creating a temporary enlivening park space. In 2014, the firm worked in its home city of Camden to revitalize the Roosevelt Plaza Park space in front of Camden City Hall. Built in 2012, the park was full of trees and had a lot of open space with few amenities.

Working with Sikora, GMD helped create a pop-up park to draw businesspeople and students from nearby schools into the space. They installed liquid storage containers that acted as planters, landscape art installations and light towers. Tables, chairs and umbrellas were added, along with an outdoor piano. According to Bryant, these features brought out the lunch crowds who didn’t have anywhere to go before the park revitalization.

“Hopefully, that’s the effect with pop-up pools,” Bryant said. “We’re building off of that experience.”

By doing these things, he said, the potential is there to build a bigger constituency for more permanent capital projects, creating more permanent park space for pools, or building interest in pools with new amenities or extensive renovations.