Commentary: Improve swim safety by adding more urban pools

On The Daily Circuit today, we did a segment on the number of drownings in Minnesota this year. One of our assistant producers, Meggan Ellingboe, wanted to have Minneapolis Swims founder Hannah Lieder on as a guest, but she was unable to make it. Lieder sent us her thoughts on the topic and we wanted to share her ideas:

This year the Minnesota state legislature sent a resounding message they care about the children of Minneapolis by passing the bonding bill to fund the renovation of the Phillips Community Center swimming pool. This pool has been closed since 2008. Once operational, it will be the only public indoor pool in all of Minneapolis. Support for this project crossed ideological and political boundaries. Republicans David Senjem from Rochester and Larry Howes from Walker joined Democrats Jeff Hayden and Karen Clark of Minneapolis to get this bill passed. Soon, the roughly 15,000 children in the most impoverished and racially and ethnically diverse community in Minneapolis will have the opportunity to learn to swim.

Funding this pool is a step in the right direction. But much more needs to be done if we are going to lower our state’s high minority drowning rates. St. Cloud and St. Paul have a public school pool for every 22,000 to 28,000 residents respectively. Minneapolis has one for every 96,000 residents and of the four remaining public school pools all of them are located in the corners of the city in the wealthier, mainly white neighborhoods and far from the urban core. All of the Minneapolis Public School pools in the urban core have closed.

This problem is rooted in the Civil Rights Movement. Back in 1860 it is estimated that 80 percent of blacks could swim versus 20 percent of whites. But by 1945 that number had completely reversed. When public swimming pools integrated by gender they became segregated by race. Blacks were systematically denied access to both public pools and public beaches. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 virtually every attempt to integrate swimming resulted in violence and most municipal pools chose to close rather than integrate. Today most swimming pools are as segregated as they were before 1964.

We can solve our drowning disparity problem by committing the resources necessary to fund swimming pools and swimming lesson. Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes; we have more shoreline than Florida, California, and Hawaii combined. Swimming is a lifesaving skill and an outdoor access skill that children in this state should learn. And we just might make a dent in our state’s academic disparity problem at the same time.

Finland has made a commitment to ensure all children in the country can swim 200 meters nonstop (eight lengths of the pool) and they’ve made great progress towards their goal. Eighty percent of Finnish sixth graders can now swim 200 meters. One of my Somali neighbors immigrated from Finland. The older boy in the family learned to swim in school in Finland. The younger boys can’t swim because they started school in Minneapolis.

Minneapolis Swims founder Hannah Lieder