Dumpster Pools Create Urban Oases

Designers transform trash bins into inviting city pools.

July 21, 2009— -- Some New York City residents are diving into Dumpsters this summer – but coming up squeaky clean and refreshed.

In the latest twist on staycations, Brooklyn swimmers have been taking refreshing dips in their newly crafted neighborhood Dumpster pools.

The transformation from waste to water was generated by Macro Sea, a New York-based design company looking to expand the concept around the country.

"Right now, we're interested in adapting existing spaces or pieces of real estate into something different," said David Belt, a real estate developer and president of Macro Sea. "With the pool project, we took an empty lot with a lot of junk in it and made it into a country club. And we just happened to use Dumpsters for swimming pools."

'We All Feel Like Garbage'

He also noted the irony of swimming in a place originally designated for trash.

"In this time we all feel a little like garbage, so swimming in a dumpster just seemed very appealing," said Belt.

Organizers have been trying to keep the location of the pools a secret, which has only added to their appeal. An article about the trend in the design magazine ReadyMade sparked a flurry of Internet commentary.

A recent Dumpster pool party in a rented lot along Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal attracted artists and filmmakers, and made the front page of The Arts section of the New York Times.

The swimming pool project is part of Macro Sea's larger plan for sustainable development, which is to take deserted strip malls and to convert them into parks, concert venues, and other interesting community spots.

"The nation's littered with these empty shopping centers, and they're sadly becoming this country's legacy," said Belt. "We're just looking to take these buildings that were made for a standard purpose and jazz them up a bit. Make them more exciting."

Belt, along with other company founders Alix Feinkind and Jocko Weyland, heard about the idea while looking to buy an abandoned strip mall in Athens, Ga. They thought the concept sounded interesting, so they decided to take it to the next level.

Forget Trash, Bring a Towel

After two weeks of sanding the pools, lining the insides, and constructing platforms, the project was complete. Overall cost for the setup of each pool was less then $1,000.

The company had an opening party to celebrate their success, inviting friends and family to enjoy their latest creation.

Party-goers splashed around in garbage bins, enjoyed hot dogs from multiple barbeque pits, lounged in cabanas, and even played bocce ball.

Since the project's kick off, people from all over the country have been traveling to Brooklyn for the experience.

"A friend of mine who knew David told me about the idea, so I flew up here to hang out by the pools," said Adam Ross, who traveled north from Atlanta, Ga. "We had set up a movie screen and watched a movie while swimming. It was such a cool little space to sit, hang out, and just have a good time."

Jonathan Marvel of the New York architecture firm Rogers Marvel Architects, PLLC, has stopped by the pools to go Dumpster diving himself. As head of a firm specializing in sustainable development, Marvel says he's very impressed with the Macro Sea project.

"I can tell you that it's a great urban contribution," said Marvel. "The Dumpsters will get recycled back into use, the water will be used to irrigate the plants in the area, and the tarps that are lining the Dumpsters will be used for construction sites. It's a project that really walks the walk in terms of recycling its components and repurposing them."

Little Money, Big Impact

Marvel, whose firm has also worked in revitalizing pools such as the McCarren Park Pool in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, says the most important part of the Dumpster pools projects is the large impact the small venture is having.

"What impressed me so much was that it was all done with very little money by people that wanted to bring people together and use resources intelligently," said Marvel. "Plus, people are using fewer resources to have summertime fun in the sun and they're getting to know their neighbor which is going to create a healthier community."

After getting so much positive feedback, Macro Sea is moving forward with their next venture for the fall. They've just made a deal to renovate their first abandoned strip mall in Atlanta.

"The plan is to have outdoor movies, concerts, and a lecture series in the parking lot," said Belt. "We also have new retail concepts where people will have places to hang out as well as shop. And we may even have some Dumpster pools as well."

Now Atlanta will be able to experience Macro Sea's literal spin on the concept of "trash to treasure."