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Swimming in the city / log #001
When I dream about floating between the buildings and underneath the tree branches.
As a teenager, I enjoyed reading my mum’s thrillers. But there was one that made more of an impression. Not just as a pageturner, but also because it was about seeing the city from another angle.
In ‘Grasshopper’, climbing-loving teenagers discover the city from the rooftops. They find an alternative route and watch what goes on in the streets from the quiet heights of the roofs. Imagine if swimming in the city was like this, floating past traffic jams and shops.
In Belgium laws, safety concerns, and water quality prevent us from going into our city streams. We can only look to the Swiss rivers in envy, jealous of the clear water and all the people carried. Famous for their swimming highways, cities like Basel and Zürich have many fans amongst swimmers. But Belgian cities are trying to catch up. Places like Brugesand Mechelen have been experimenting with assigned swimming spots, while Antwerp and Leuven are now looking to invest in their own.
Since the rules around swimming are rather restrictive still, Belgian swimmers need to be patient. Outdoor swimming is only supposed to happen in predetermined time schedules, with lifeguards present at all times. I found a similar situation in Paris this autumn. In September, the Bassin de la Villette was already closed for winter.
However, every season has its type of swimmers. When the picnicking families and couples of summer have returned home, species of cold water enthusiasts appear. Athletes, out first thing in the morning, but also older swimmers and dippers who barely leave the ladder. In Copenhagen, pontons and swimming structures stay “open” to swimmers all through the winter and mobile saunas are placed on the shore.
Imagine not only an assigned zone but a network of small beaches and jetties, which provide options for swimming from one neighborhood to another. Seeing the city from another angle, in water that will not get you sick.
When traveling to Amsterdam last week, I asked my cousin for swimming spots. Living in Amsterdam, she shared a list of no less than 20 spots, published by the local paper. Just across the border (Amsterdam is only 160 kilometers from Antwerp) outdoor swimming is allowed and even supported. It was a joy to see official and claimed swimming spots throughout the city.
While pushing my bike through the wind and rain in Antwerp, I dream of those rivers coming from the mountains in Switzerland. Sightly cold water. The bright colors of the buoys. Chatter from the other swimmers. What the city would be with the comforting sight of arms turning and caps bobbing through its waterways.
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‘Grasshopper’ by Barbara Vine (2000), published in Dutch as ‘Gesloten Ruimte’, without Ruth Rendell’s pseudonym, https://www.deslegte.com/gesloten-ruimte-690229/
Coupure in Bruges, https://www.brugge.be/zwemmenincoupure
Keerdok in Mechelen, https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/nl/2022/06/17/keerdok-bij-de-dijle-in-mechelen-vanaf-deze-zomer-ook-open-voor/
Dank je, Ilse. Ik deel de zwemliefde hier weer verder https://www.parool.nl/amsterdam/zwemmen-in-amsterdam-hier-kun-je-een-duik-nemen-in-natuurwater~bdefe879/
Extra one if you are still reading, architects call the water in the city blue space. Listen to a great podcast about this here (in English): https://tomorrowpeople.today/blue-space/
This episode includes the coolest of city swimming initiatives in Belgium, Pool is Cool.