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Pop-up pool initiative bolsters access to blue amenity for Sydney communities

One marker of urban liveability is access to blue and green amenities, and a leading utility has begun the process of ensuring everyone in Australia’s largest city can enjoy safe outdoor swimming without leaving their local community.

Sydney Water has launched its first new pop-up swimming pool in Prospect as part of the utility’s Urban Plunge initiative – a unique scheme designed to work with partners to increase access to blue amenity throughout Sydney’s western communities into the future.

Sydney Water General Manager of Business Development Chris Gould said Urban Plunge is designed to make water accessible to everyone and not just those that live close to the beach.

“Swimming over summer is such a huge part of our Australian culture and providing a place for everyone close to home is what the Urban Plunge initiative is all about,” Gould said.

“We all learned the value of the great outdoors during COVID and this initiative is about working with partners to create free, accessible and swimmable locations for the community over summer. We are focusing on the unrealised potential of the natural waterways across the city.”

“We all love a day at the beach, but with the rising cost of living putting extra pressure on household budgets, the sites are a fun day out for families who can have a splash this summer, without having to put their hands in their pockets.”

Now open to the public everyday of the week during school holidays, the Prospect swimming site includes two pop-up pools, food trucks and ping pong tables, as well as plenty of green space to enjoy with family and friends over summer.

“Our Prospect pop-up site unlocks enormous potential for our community’s recreation and wellbeing, it’s safe, it’s free and we hope it’s the first of many sites to come,” Gould said.

“This is the future of swimming in Sydney, the Blue Mountains and the Illawarra. It is just the beginning of our journey to provide a truly unique experience for people to be able to reach a swimming site within a 30-minute drive from their home.”

Thirty-minute cities

Gould said the Urban Plunge initiative started with the vision for "30-minute cities" – the broader plan developed by the Greater Cities Commission to ensure access to amenities clustered around Sydney’s harbour, central river and western parklands cities.

“We wanted to bring this idea to life. Our vision is to have a city where anyone can swim in and interact with waterways within 30 minutes of where they live, no matter where they are in Sydney,” he said.

Sydney Water has been partnering with local council and state agencies to open sites along the Parramatta River since 2014, Gould said, which has proven to be a long, arduous and complex process.

“After working with stakeholders to plan the river sites, we have built up a lot of intelligence around how to streamline the process of getting these sites up and running in a 12-month period,” he said.

“And while a year might sound like a long time, in some cases it was expected that it could take 50 years to open up swim sites. We have been working on a range of design approaches to allow swimming in some of these more challenging sites.”

Although Sydney Water had been working through ways of helping to clean up local waterways for some time, Gould said the pandemic catalysed a major acceleration of the initiative, as government-mandated restrictions on movement revealed the disparity in access to blue amenities between communities in Sydney’s east and west.

“There was an emerging dichotomy during the pandemic between the west and the east of Sydney. It became very clear that people living in the west don’t have the same level of amenity in terms of blue and green space as those living in Bondi or Manly, for example,” he said.

“We hosted a design sprint at our first Sydney Water Innovation Festival last year, which involved getting a bunch of smart people in one room and asking them how we could open up swim sites in a year to help tackle this issue.

“The Urban Plunge concept came out of it all and we started to treat it as a marketable product.”

Aside from the Prospect pop-up pool site, Sydney Water also recently partnered with City of Canada Bay to ensure that their new river-swim site at Bayview Park could be safely established and the water quality regularly reported and predicted on

Sydney Water will continue the initiative, and partners are considering more than 11 more sites around Western Sydney.

All of the sites are currently being scoped and investigated for their water quality, swim safety, ecological health, and community interest, Gould said.

“The initiative has just exploded in terms of demand,” he said.

Above and beyond

While the Urban Plunge initiative certainly requires a lot of work between the utility, councils, regulators and partner organisations, Gould said providing this amenity is all about ensuring Sydney Water continues to be a customer-centric utility.

“Interestingly, a few years ago this was not on our customers’ agenda. But following the pandemic, our extensive customer engagement informed us that having access to clean, healthy waterways is the third most important thing for our communities,” he said. 

"We consider ourselves to be a customer-centric organisation, which means we need to deliver on this request. We need to find a way to make it work.

“We are not a pool operator, we are not in the business of managing beaches. What we bring to the equation is the process of being able to set up a site in an expedited manner, and have the confidence that the water quality is safe and reliable.”

And while the Urban Plunge initiative is expected to take off across Sydney in future, Gould said providing this amenity to communities also offer up plenty of opportunities to engage further with customers around important water issues to boost water literacy.

“Around the site we have food trucks and light entertainment, but we also have an educational piece. We have a Wonders of Water van targeted towards school students, which explains the water cycle and other important topics, like recycled and purified water,” he said.

“We also have a number of campaigns alongside the van, particularly around water conservation, and a tent where people can go to express to us what they think we are doing well and where they think we can improve.”

Gould said Sydney Water has also focused on how to include as many partners as possible to ensure best-practice across the site in terms of sustainability and environment.

“Endeavour Energy has provided solar panels and batteries, along with grid support to power the Urban Plunge pools, and have set up electric vehicle chargers at the site, as well,” he said.

“We’re also proud to be working with a number of local businesses, including Hire Express, Vision Intelligence and Poolwerx who are all contributing to make the site safe and enjoyable for the community.”

“We are absolutely using this as an opportunity to educate the community about what we do and what our partners do, too.”

Visit this link for more information about the pop-up swim site, including pre-registration and opening hours.