Photo credit: @julesdwit.
A not-for-profit media organization supported by people like you.
New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe discusses the incidents at the newly opened McCarren Pool, takes calls from Williamsburg/Greenpoint residents, and puts pool violence in context.
Why is Benepe lecturing us? The very people who cause trouble aren't likely to be listening to WNYC.
commish,how good you are about race/class tension denial. why can't you just be honest, and at least say that this a topic beyond your purview,instead of engaging in childish silly dismissiveness.
I think it is troubling that a public work this monumental did not allocate funds to provide for more thoughtful approaches to the social psychology of engineering crowd control better with modern information publication in the holding areas. Once a visitor has entered and can view the pool, the signs (rules) don't matter nearly as much. The waiting line is the opportunity to deliver information to the visitors. It would take a huge burden off all the staff and lifeguards, if visitors had time to see this information while they were waiting in line. It could inform the guests of the park's expectations from them and the potential penalties if they don't abide by the rules. Troublemakers are easier to identify from mistake makers, if there is less room for mistakes. Maybe my "designed to fail" statement was a little harsh, but clearly it was not designed to excel at applying sound principles of education and information relevant to big public spaces at the optimum opportunity. Words, sounds, and images are powerful tools. Used properly, they can change or prevent unnecessary outcomes, and steer the public to a safe, fun experience.
They should at minimum require some sort of card/membership for children/teens who are unaccompanied by an adult. I was there on friday, and while I did not see the incidient, many unsupervised teens were behaving terribly.
I am 73 years old, have been a resident of Greenpoint all my life, and practically grew up in McCarren Park (which is totally in Greenpoint, not in Williamsburg) and at the three pools contained therein in my youth - the one that has just been reopened, the 16-foot one that no one would dare reopen these days because of the ambulance-chasing legal profession in NYC, and the Kiddie Pool. Anyway, what the various articles I have read have refused to report on, or perhaps are not even aware of, is that the McCarren Pool, when it closed in 1984, had been on a downward spiral for decades. Beginning in the late 1950s, the Pool was increasingly taken over by kids from outside the area - mostly, I would think, from Bushwick, Bed-Stuy and Fort Greene - who were comprised of rambunctious "toughs", so much so that the local kids (myself included) started to be afraid to go there and finally decided that it simply wasn't worth it, while meanwhile our parents, and especially the parents of kids younger than we were by that time, simply would not allow their kids to go there. And so, over two decades or so, the Pool situation got worse and worse, the City paid no attention and let it fall into disrepair while it was still being used, and finally it was closed completely in 1984. The Commissioner mentioned that funds were allocated during the Koch Administration for repair and reopening, and that the community (that's mostly Greenpointers, I'm afraid, Williamsburg really having arrived there en masse much later) didn't want it reopened. Well, now you know why. Meanwhile, I would also point out that during all the years, say 1943 to 1957 or so, I went to those various pools (and the reopened one serves only about a quarter as many people as the old one did), there were sufficient lifeguards for protection, but nothing like what was mentioned on your program today - one every ten yards or so - and, far more important for purposes of comparing then and now, I remember no, repeat NO, policemen on duty at the big pools back during those peaceful times (in the same way that I never heard of a policeman patrolling ANY NYC school building while I was in the system). This speaks for the relative lack of civility now as compared to the days of my youth. Anyway, no, I don't believe for a minute that this is a "racial" thing, and I don't think it was back then, either; it was, and is, simply that kids will usually try to get away with anything they think they can get away with when unsupervised both at the parksite and at home (where it all begins), and for whatever reason, I think the kids coming in from outside Greenpoint have not been subjected to the kind of discipline necessary to keep them from adhering to what we now must laughingly call Society's Standards. Anyway, I'm glad the Pool has been reopened, wish it luck, and truly advise lifeguards, policemen, etc. to come down like a ton of bricks on those who would ruin such a nice adventure for the rest of us.
Problems in the pools happen because there is a lack of adult supervision of the older kids, and many of these kids just go wild. I attempted to use the pool on Flushing Avenue near the Navy Yard last summer, and a huge fight had just been broken up, and the pool area emptied as the cops arrived. It was sad to see parents with smaller kids have to have their day out ruined by the older kids who were harassing people, screaming and yelling, and basically acting like they owned the place. I think the suggestion by the caller is a good one: issue ID cards that need to be swiped and operate somewhat like the YMCA system: offenders get thrown out. Another great thing would be to have an "adults only" swim either early in the morning, or in the early evening. In smaller pools, like the one near the Navy Yard, it's not exactly a relaxing experience to try to swim in these pools with all of the rowdy teenagers taking over.
As an aside to the parks commissioner, would like to throw out there that the park near my home - Saratoga Park in Bed Stuy - hasn't been cleaned up in a while. There is way more trash than usual in and around the park, and cans are overflowing. Can't the parks department hire more people during the summer to keep up with all the trash???
Why don't they partner with the library system, where you already have a city wide registration system, so you can be admitted to pools with your library card?
For the commissioner: Signage is badly needed in the surf areas at Rockaway. Parks workers are constantly having to yank bathers out of water because people don't realize the area is for boards only and that there are no lifeguards, so it is not safe for bathers. Sometimes tempers get pretty hot, which is unfortunate for all. Signs would help a lot, I think.
As shocking as it is that the kid struck a cop, I think it's very sad that kids don't have a place to flip off the side of the pool. How else to express ones exuberance at such a great new facility!?
I hate to say this, but that Mom that just called about getting her locker broken into is an example of the new New York.boo.
Is "Racial tension" a code name for ill - behaved minority kids??
This has to do with thuggery by a few, wannabe gang bangers, why can't we leave it at that.
I read in the NYTimes about additional graffiti in the immediate area around the pool, and also, disgustingly, a lack of sufficient public bathrooms leading to people defecating and urinating in public, on the sidewalk, etc. Comment?
Ask the Commissioner about the excessive trash and public urination in McCarren in general and from the people waiting to get into the pool. Trash cans are not placed near the people waiting. No place for people waiting to relieve themselves.
Over 1000 people frolicking in a public pool, there will be fights and disagreements, Black, white, ethnic white or hispanic it will not make a difference, all New Yorkers.
Never put valuables in any locker anywhere!
If "of course" this was going to happen when you have so many people at the pool & *now* steps will be taken to keep it from happening again, why wasn't it predictable enough that steps would have been taken from the start to keep it from happening the 1st time? This repeated "of course" dismissal bothers me.
Issue is Liability, City will get sued when Junior hits his head on the shallow end.
I was not there for the incidents that this program is addressing, so I do not know if racial tensions played a role in the fighting and tension. I do however live in a quickly-gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn and I fear that completely ignoring or dismissing racial tensions caused by displacement and gentrification is not the right tack either.
These tensions most definitely exist in my neighborhood and I occasionally hear derisive comments from longtime residents, despite the fact that I am currently working on housing campaigns whose goal is to fight displacement of residents of my neighborhood. I've heard equally derisive and dismissive comments from new residents, so tensions are on the surface. Surely at Mccarren pool, there are myriad factors contributing to tensions and fighting, but it would certainly not surprise me if racial tensions were part of these flare ups. I think we gain nothing by ignoring that fact.
The pool is a great asset for the area, and a fight here and there is not the end of the world, provided the trend does not continue. But on a practical note, there's a great lap swimming area, but no lane lines. This makes it challenging to navigate when it gets crowded - imagine a busy road with no lanes or dividers, and cars going both directions!! A minor complaint to be sure, but one that could be cheaply remedied.
If kids are not taught from an early age to respect authority (and just look around you at how some parents speak to their kids about teachers and principals), but the time they become teenagers, fuhgeddaboutit!
Why do people make excuses for thugs who cause trouble? It's not that they're treated poorly and then act out. Bull! No excuses: we can't live together if some people can't behave. Kick em out, let everyone else enjoy it.
Bingo Brian! You finally underlined the key difference in this situation than the past, when OF COURSE there were fights!
The attack on the cop seems very different to me than that on a lifeguard. Whatever the problems with the NYPD, they do go through training to defuse tensions, to avoid conflict when possible. Are lifeguards given any training to help defuse situations?
The commissioner's example of people fighting at the opera concert doesn't disprove the question -- it only shows how deep the dysfunction of our society has become.
And I might question if those that were involved in the opera fight were regular opera fans, or just wannabees looking for a glamorous picnic. Free Classical music events often attract those who behave as if they're in a rock concert.
These kinds of things happen because people are sick and god damn tired of being told what to do and of being micromanaged every god damn minute in this nanny state city.
Brian, what do you mean by "isolated events"?? That trivializes the behavior. I can't EVER imagine kids attacking a lifeguard or cops in such a situation when I grew up.
Not ever. The fact that these events took place at different times should be enough to highlight that something deeper going on.
Of course, overwhelmingly most folks from ALL backgrounds are good, decent, and civic-minded, but it we don't judge how our society is doing from mass norm -- it is how far the extremes go that are the danger.
McCarren is a welcome respite for many local people. It is huge (fitting 1,500 swimmers) and will always be a bit chaotic. However, chaos and lawlessness are not the same thing. A zero tolerance policy and a one-strike and you're out policy are the only ways to ensure that the 1,400+ law abiding swimmers can enjoy themselves.http://heresheisboys.com/2012/07/03/everybody-in-the-pool/
This story is about more than a pool and racial tension, it's also about global warming and poverty. Record breaking heat is breaking out all over the world. New York has to deal with this in a more meaningful way than just opening a pool, or two. We need to clean up the environment. In that respect, the comment by phil eldridge above is interesting. Cleaning the environment so that we could swim in the rivers would be a good project, worthy of a new WPA. It is tragic that the same processes that polluted the rivers and made them unswimmable are the same that are making it so hot, too.
I would also love to see an expanded lap swimming area in this gigantic pool as well. Since the pool doesn't open until 11:00 & many lap swimmers are used to early morning swims, what is the possibility about opening the pool early some days for lap swimmers, even if it's only 1-2 hours?
The pool and its facilities are beautiful--congratulations to the Parks Department for a great renovation that provides much-needed facilities for a neighborhood that needs them! Everything isn't perfect (there's not much shade; the lap-swimming area is pathetically undersized, as we've seen already in the first two days of operation), but it's a great new public facility.
The fact that there's been a rough start-up, with a couple of incidents of violence, is an issue for sure-but it's youth assaults are not specific to the pool, they are a larger issue that comes up in schools and elsewhere, too. At the pool, it can be resolved through staffing and policy changes. We shouldn't let this become the only story anyone tells about McCarren Pool. There's more to celebrate here than to criticize.
The crowds at the pool are so large because, among other things, there are few places to cool off and it is hotter than ever.
It would be awesome if we could work on cleaning the East River and the Hudson River to the point where they would be safe to swim. Gates of sorts could be set up so people aren't swept off by the current.
In addition to having a good swimming place, it would heal the environment.
When the Commissioner says anything about "lack of funds." Please ask him why isn't the money allocated from OSA - our public private partnership which is suppose to fundraise and supplement the parks budget. The night before the pool open OSA held a big fundraiser and every year OSA produces concerts that cost over $1,000,000 to produce and only bring $200,000 back to CB1 Parks.
John - we need public places like McCarren Park Pool for this very reason -- the tension exists, and while our movement toward social balance or cohesion or whatever will be bumpy, we'll continue to make progress, and public space will play a primary role in that progress. I applaud the vision behind this ambitious project, and only hope that the management of these opening speed bumps will be as optimistic.
I grew up in Williamsberg and used this pool as a boy. My dad and my brothers always stuck together because you could get robbed in the locker rooms and there was a "race" or background issue. The area was blue collar ethnic white and the outsiders were hispanic and black. There fights, muggings and stabbings.
The issue maybe the pool is too big, but I would not have opened it again. Between trying to control todays youth and lack of impulse control, it is not managable.
Email addresses are required but never displayed.
Brian Lehrer leads the conversation about what matters most now in local and national politics, our own communities and our lives.
Subscribe on iTunes
WNYC 93.9 FM and AM 820 are New York's flagship public radio
stations, broadcasting the finest programs from NPR and PRI, as well as a wide range of award-winning local
programming. WNYC is a division of
New York Public Radio.