Dumpster Diving on Park Avenue

Big Apple opens swimming pools made from trash bins.

August 9, 2010, 4:13 PM

Aug. 10, 2010 — -- New Yorkers strolling down ritzy Park Avenue can choose to go for a dip in a dumpster swimming pool this month.

As part of New York City's Summer Streets program, three pools made of the giant trash bins have opened to the public, right near Grand Central Station, available for those interested in cooling off from the summer heat on weekends in August.

Dumpster diving in New York first became popular last summer in Brooklyn, when Macro-Sea, a development company, started hosting secret swimming parties around the borough, setting up the trash bins in vacant lots.

"Last year we took a junkyard in Brooklyn and made kind of a low-fi country club for our friends and we used dumpsters," Macro-Sea president David Belt said. "We tore out the insides and covered it with plastic and tarps and we had filters around the edge and built some decks and we had a great time."

The secret series of dumpster parties became popular enough to get the attention of the New York Times, landing a plum spot on the front page of the paper's arts section.

"The dumpsters turned out to make pretty good pools because of their size and their mobility," Belt said.

The trend also caught the attention of New York City officials, who have now incorporated the dumpster pools into the city's outdoor recreation project, Summer Streets. For the next two Saturdays the city will have three dumpster pools open to the public on the city's famed Park Avenue.

When the city gave Macro-Sea the opportunity to open the pools on the posh avenue, Belt was ecstatic.

"I love the idea that it kind of takes Park Avenue down a couple of notches of pretentiousness, and that you're repurposing Park Avenue just like you'd repurpose a junk yard," he said.

"I really loved the idea of the dumpster pools," Dani Simons, the project coordinator, said. "You hear dumpster and you think one thing, and then you see the pools or you see pictures of them, and it's totally a different thing."

Simons described the pools as an innovative trend in New York City: "It's taking something we're used to seeing in one particular way and really inventing them and using them in this totally creative and new way."

The Park Avenue pools are all made from brand-new dumpsters that never functioned as trash bins. The containers were remodeled into swimmer-friendly oases in the city, complete with decking, showers, and a lounge with cabanas for changing.

"There's furniture around so you can actually chill out and catch a sun tan if you want," Simons said.

From Trash Bin to Swimming Pool

New York City's health department inspected and approved each swimming hole before the first swimmers jumped in. The pools are outfitted with protective liners and a filtration system.

Demand for a spot in the pools is expected to be high for the remainder of the summer. Admission is free, but to accommodate interested dumpster divers and prevent overcrowding, one needs to sign up for a wrist band that allows one to swim at a particular time.

"We encourage people to get there early if they want to get a wristband and get in and take a dip," Simons said. On weekdays the pools are drained and covered over for safety.

The pools are one of the highlights of the Summer Streets program run by New York City's Department of Transportation. As part of Summer Streets, seven miles of city streets are shut down to traffic on the first three Saturdays in August. The streets are open for walking, biking, running and rollerblading, and include performances by various arts groups.

"For the fraction of the cost of building a park, you're creating this new public amenity," Simons said.

For the department of transportation, dumpster pools were the perfect fit for the program, showcasing the city's homegrown ingenuity. Simons said, "People do really amazing stuff with found materials and you can really re-imagine the way you use things that we use every day."

New Yorkers have two more Saturdays to enjoy the pools, which are set up on Park Avenue between East 40th and 41st streets.