Splish splash.

With a mid-week holiday coming up in the U.S., we’ve all got summer on our minds. So we’re trying something a little different for the CityLab Daily this week, exploring the essential elements of summer in the city. You can find all our latest stories here, and as always, let us know what you think at hello@citylab.com.

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In his 1968 book, Desert Solitaire, the radical environmentalist Edward Abbey wrote of the American West, “There is no lack of water unless you try to establish a city where no city should be.” Whatever your take is on the coastal bubble, it makes sense that cities gravitate toward water: It facilitates trade, provides vital drinking water, and allows for pleasant parks and scenery. Simply put, it’s the most important natural resource for a city to harness. But as climate change brings both drought and sea-level rise, Abbey’s aphorism is too simple. Water’s scarcity and destructive power have become a great challenge.

This week, with schools out and temperatures rising, people will flock to pools and beaches to beat the summer heat. But even that elementary joy has ties to the difficult history of segregation in the United States. As people of color navigated an integrating America, public pools and beaches became flashpoints during desegregation that were sometimes guarded violently. All that’s in the backdrop when Fred Rogers now-famously invites Francois “Officer” Clemmons to cool his feet in a kiddie pool in a 1969 episode of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. From the rising cost of water bills to the summer pool party, it’s clear there’s much work to be done to turn water’s replenishing power into a tool for more inclusive, sustainable cities.

A splash in the CityLab archives:

CityLab Daily is written by Andrew Small.


Summer Icon: The Splash Pad

A photo shows a child playing in a splash pad.
A youngster cools off at a splash pad in Omaha, Nebraska, during a 2016 heat wave. (Nati Harnik/AP)

Wrenching open a fire hydrant to spray water might be a romantic notion, but it typically isn’t legal, and public fountains have long been forbidden wading pools. In recent years, though, the splash pad has become an increasingly common place to cool off. Not only are these spraygrounds a fun way to keep cool, they provide a recreational space that’s accessible to all ages at a relatively low cost. A splash pad requires less fencing and land than a pool, and with little risk of drowning, they don’t need a lifeguard on duty at all times. I dare you to walk past one on a scorching hot summer day like today without being tempted to hop in.


By the Numbers

355 billion: Gallons of water used by the United States per day

80 to 100: Gallons of water used by the average American per day

13: Gallons of water used by Cape Town residents per day during “Day Zero” restrictions

51,356: Community water systems in the U.S. (8,762 of them reach 92 percent of the population)

41 million: Number of households in the U.S. that may not be able to afford water for drinking, bathing, and cooking by 2020

309,000: Estimated number of public pools in the U.S.

10.4 million: Estimated number of residential swimming pools in the U.S.


Water Use, Mapped

An animated map shows water use across the U.S. in 2015.

Americans are getting better at conserving water, according to a U.S. Geological Survey report released this month. The Washington Post reported that per capita domestic water use has plummeted from 112 gallons per day in 1980 to just 82 gallons in 2015, a 27 percent decrease. The map above from Data Is Beautiful on Reddit shows how different regional uses compare by county, with thermoelectric power, irrigation, public water supply, and industrial uses.


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