Urban Swimways

November 5, 2016

Welcome to Urban Swimways, a monthly column that spotlights inspiring precedents for urban swimming from around the world.


With each newsletter we’ll dive into an urban swimway somewhere in the world. What is an ‘urban swimway’, you ask? Simply put, something like our own dear Willamette River: a more or less natural body of water in the middle of an active city that offers all kinds of opportunities for direct human access, immersion, enjoyment and adventure.


Some urban swimways have been around for a long time. Others, like in Portland, are just waking up to their own unique open water offerings right in their midst. We’ll try to keep things relevant to our own urban condition, climate, and watercourses (Sorry, Miami!) but still present a wide variety of ways people enjoy their local rivers, lakes, and estuaries.


Over the next few months we will visit swimways as nearby as Seattle and as far-flung as Berlin. We’ll check out floating saunas, cold-water crazies, and pop-up summertime beaches. We’ll pay a visit to our neighbors down in San Francisco and their long tradition of bay swimming. We’ll cross the pond to London’s diverse open water offerings, before checking in with the heartiest of urban swim clubs in Dublin.


We will also look at the best of the best in facilities, from Copenhagen’s swimming docks to the proposed naturally-filtered floating pool in NYC’s East River. We’ll check in with Pierre Mallet’s ongoing efforts to open up Paris’ waterways for human access, and the recently-won success of urban swimming in Victoria BC. We may take a few liberties from time to time as we delve into the ancient Ghats of the Ganges or the year-round tradition of open-air ‘Lido’ pools in Europe, but will always discover how these places can offer inspiration for our own Willamette.


As we highlight these swimways, we’ll make sure to provide links to deeper explorations of the unique traditions, communities, and features that have distinguished these places. We’ll try to provide some first-hand accounts from the locals, and will of course welcome any insights and experiences from you, our readers. This column aims to inspire, enlighten, and ultimately activate our own creative juices. To make a local space and culture for urban swimming which sits proudly alongside other great swimways around the world.


So get out your passport, cap and goggles, and join me each month in a new corner of our watery world.


HAP columnist, Garrett Martin, is a lifelong swimmer and currently an architect with Hacker Architects in Portland. He competed as a swimmer through the collegiate level before discovering the joys of open water swimming, first as an ocean lifeguard for Los Angeles County and more recently in the Pacific Northwest. He first fell in love with the Willamette River when he participated in the inaugural Bridge Swim in 2011. A Portland resident and architect for 20 years, Garrett has long sought a dream of bringing a world-class swimming facility to the central city and the waters of the Willamette River.

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