A proposed Slip ‘n’ Slide for one day in downtown promised to be an entertaining urban intervention. But it has brought on howls of drought-shaming — even as millions of gallons are poured on water parks, swimming pools and other water-based leisure activities in Los Angeles. Should we be careful of environmental moralizing? And in a drier future, where will we go to cool off?
A Slippery Problem
A couple weeks back a company called Slide The City announced it would bring a 1000-foot-long Slip ‘n’ Slide to downtown Los Angeles for one day in September.
On the face of it, the watery slide, planned to descend several blocks on Olive Street, sounded like a huge crowd-pleaser and an exciting way to use the street, akin to CicLAvia or farmers markets or other temporary urban interventions.
But at this dry time, not everyone has welcomed it. The DWP’s water conservation policy manager Penny Falcon told DnA, “We really feel the slide the city event is not consistent with the seriousness of the statewide drought,” and is recommending city officials do not give the attraction the go-ahead (the Mayor’s office is still considering whether to give the project a permit.)
A petition opposing Slide The City has garnered thousands of signatures, and the LA Times editorialized against it.
Slide The City Not the Only Water Guzzler
And yet, this is a region that prides itself on watery fun, that is potable watery fun in addition to its miles of glorious beaches. The region has thousands of private swimming pools, several huge waterparks, not to mention gallons are poured on other leisure activities like golf courses (below, Trump National Golf Course in Rancho Palos Verdes). So why did Slide The City become a lightening rod for drought-anxiety? Should pools, water parks and golf courses turn off the faucets? And if this drought is an indicator of even greater dryness to come, what place does water-based pleasure have in future Los Angeles?
We Are The Water Hogs
In an interview with Kerry Cavanaugh, editorial writer for the Los Angeles Times, she told DnA that she opposes Slide The City as much for symbolic reasons as for its actual amount of water consumption, saying it represents “an appearance issue.”
While residents are being fined $500 dollars for excessive use of water, she says, it’s not okay to let a company dispose of up to 20,000 gallons of water on a fun event.
“It’s more than just the water that’s lost, its the message that’s sent to Northern California where there is already a perception that in Southern California we are are the water hogs, we’re taking their water. . . and now we are laying down a slip n slide and frolicking in the street, what message does that send?”
Slide The City, however, promises to recycle and reclaim the up to 20,000 gallons of water it will use in its one day, says founder T.R. Gourley.
And while it has aroused the ire of Angelenos, millions of gallons are being poured daily on the following entertainments that directly or indirectly consume water:
Thousands of them, 43,123 swimming pools to be precise, mostly private, and mostly in the more affluent neighborhoods, are in the area between the Hollywood Hills and San Pedro; that’s according to The Big Atlas of L.A. Pools, a mapping project by graphic designer Benedikt Groß and geographer Joseph K. (aka Joey) Lee that was recently shown at the LA Forum in Hollywood (stacks of the map in image below).
Each one of those private pools loses approximately 20,000 gallons of water to evaporation alone each year.
And by the way, who doesn’t love an LA swimming pool, in all its guilt-inducing unnaturalness, whether iconicized as an emblem of the L.A. lifestyle by the likes of Maynard Parker or David Hockney or drained, during a previous drought, and reborn as skateboard parks? (Shown, The Hockney Swimmer, 1978, color photo, © Michael Childers; courtesy Palm Springs Art Museum.)
The region’s water parks — Raging Waters, Hurricane Harbor and so on — are estimated to use 1-200,000 gallons per day. They are designed to recycle and conserve as much as 95% of that water. But they still might wind up throwing away 20,000 gallons per day.
Leisure activities like golf use water indirectly. Audubon International estimates that the average US golf course drinks 312,000 gallons per day. The City of LA itself operates 14 golf courses, not to mention there are hundreds of privately owned ones in the Southland.
Food and Drink
Leisure activities like going to a restaurant involve water: the per capita water use of one person in a restaurant is estimated to be ten gallons. Eric Hansen, consultant to the hotel and leisure industry explains these gallons go for drinking, washing, cooking and bathroom use. Multiply a table of four by 500 covers and you have 20,000 gallons in one evening; that’s the amount Slide The City estimates it will use tops.
So Why the Anger At Slide The City?
Both the LA Times Cavanaugh and Gourley agree on one thing: it’s the newness of it. The other water guzzlers already exist; Slide The City represents a buzz-creating addition at a very sensitive time.
But Jon Christensen, editor of Boom: A Journal of California, cautions that drought-conscious Angelenos need to beware of nixing “fun” in the name of conservation of water.
Christensen, a professor in the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, recently hosted a series of panels at the Natural History Museum about the role of water in Southern California, from the engineering that brought it here to the challenges facing the region as it gets drier and hotter following climate change (DnA’s Frances Anderton was a guest on one of the panels).
He says that taking a moralizing position on something as pleasurable for so many as a Slip n Slide works against efforts to bring all Southlanders into a conversation about prevailing collectively against future, greater drought.
“When we are talking about the need for water conservation, for understanding where our water comes from, if that message gets confused with a message about being against fun, then we are going to have a hard time finding our way to figuring out how to use water more wisely but do it in a way that continues to make Los Angeles a thriving, beautiful, fun, pleasant place to live.”
What do YOU think of Slide The City? Listen to the discussion and join the conversation on our Facebook page at KCRW’s Design and Architecture.