Guest Column - November 2007
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You've Come a Long Way, Baby

By Melinda Kempfer

nce upon a time, recreation professionals called wondering what this "zero depth thing" was, if waterslides were really safe and why the heck they should add shade structures to a pool. This, of course, was several years ago. Aquatic recreational and programming needs of the public have evolved to the point where words like "zero depth entry," "interactive water play structures," "competitive swimming" and "accessibility" now are all part of the industry lexicon. They are no longer new trends, and family aquatic centers are no longer a luxury—they have become our new way of life.

There's no place like home

Family aquatic centers continue to increase in popularity because of the positive impact they have on the communities where they are built. The industry has seen that an aquatic element within a neighborhood positively impacts health, crime prevention, the environment, the economy and the quality of life. Well-attended parks help decrease vandalism and fear of crime within parks. They evoke a sense of ownership as residents become more involved in "park watch" programs.

They have become important to the economic development of neighborhoods across the nation by helping to create a place where people want to live and do business. Grassroots revitalization and growth programs that focus on beautification projects and commerce, including streetscapes and curb appeal, in neighborhoods around the aquatic center are often initiated after aquatic facilities are built.

What's new?

Pools are still popular, but what are today's "new trends"? Of course there is a plethora of innovative equipment that has made the scene. Commercial waterparks are a big influence in municipal family aquatic centers. Rides have become more exciting to keep up with the public's demand and entertainment needs. We are starting to see amenities like surf generators, speed slides, bowl slides, wave pools, water coasters and multilevel play structures in public aquatic centers. Bringing this excitement to the municipal pool increases attendance, participation and revenue, and fulfills guest expectations. But equipment isn't the only new trend. We need to take a step back and look at the communities that we serve.

A grandmother and a teenager walk into the pool...

No, this is not the beginning of a joke. It is a new trend in aquatics: designing and programming for the multi-generational and programmatic needs within our pools. A community waterpark facility helps to weave the threads of a community and enhance the quality of life, family, togetherness and wellness of its residents. It serves the entire public including active seniors, aging baby boomers, parents, teenagers, young children, toddlers and infants. There is recreational value that meets the needs of each demographic in a community. Programming within aquatic centers and parks encourages people to gather to gather and share an event. Let's take a look at who is swimming where:

  • The aging population has increased the demand for low-impact exercise programs. Because water buoyancy gives a person more freedom, movement becomes easier. Water also adds a graded resistance during exercise. Current channel or lazy rivers can be used for resistance or assistive walking classes during one time of the day and can then be used as a recreational river to serve another group.
  • Conversation and socializing areas within the pool—3 to 5 feet of water—with bubble benches and sitting areas are becoming prevalent in new designs.
  • The inclusion of water playgrounds in municipal parks is on the rise. These interactive areas can be located adjacent to other recreation venues or in standalone parks or urban areas.
  • Guest accommodations are becoming commonplace in a municipal pool. Shade is increasingly important along with deck chairs and pavilions where guests can be comfortable. A comfortable guest spends more time at the park.
  • Difficult-to-please demographics include the tweens and teenagers who don't always want to hang out with mom and dad. An aquatic craze among those participants is the "Teen Zone." This is a separate yet very visible section of the deck or grass area that is programmed for this specific group. Within their "own space" they can socialize, enjoy popular music and just hang out.
  • Likewise, some facilities have designated areas for adults only. While parents with small children in the pool should not be encouraged to visit these areas, it is a relaxing environment for adults or seniors who would like attend the pool without interacting with children.
  • One final trend that shouldn't be overlooked is theming. Themed environments within a park have become common in both commercial and municipal waterparks. The ability to package some sort of experience and create an instant atmosphere will transform guests into another world as they navigate through the park. This concept creates excitement and a sense of arrival for the guest and can help to increase the length of stay.