Politics of Swimming BY ROBERT BRYCE BARTON SPRINGS ETERNAL The Soul of a City. Edited by Turk Pipkin and Marshall French. Illustrated. 136 pages. Austin: Soft Shoe Publishing. $24.95. DURING HER SPEECH at the University of Texas in Austin last April, First Lady Hillary Clinton discussed the dearth of meaning in American politics. “We realize that somehow economic growth and prosperity, political democracy and freedom are not enough, that we lack meaning in our individual lives and meaning collectively, we lack a sense that our lives are part of some greater effort, that we are connected to one another.” She continued, “We need a new politics of meaning.” When talking about “politics of meaning,” the First Lady was encouraging us to think about the things we value. This discussion of values is a large part of what the American environmental movement has been about. John. Muir, David Brower, Earth First!, the Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society, all have focused their discussions on the value of open space, the value of rare birds, the value of a pristine stream. Unfortunately, over the past 12 years, any discussion in American politics that included the word “values” has been preceded by the word “family.” These “family values” became code words for “all of us good, God-fearing, non-homosexual, suburban, Anglo-Saxon Republicans.” In the May/June issue of Tikkun magazine, editor Michael Lerner discusses the issue of values when he says that politicians need to “switch their focus away from economic entitlements and political rights and begin to address the deprivation of meaning…Most Americans are not hungering for more benefits they are hungering for more meaning.” Attaching meaning, attaching value to places, things and ideas is the primary challenge of the environmental movement. Whether it is about rainforests in Ecuador and Guatemala, or snow leopards in Tibet, environmental groups and environmental activists are working to convince people of the value of wild things, of pristine things, Robert Bryce is an Austin freelance writer, one of whose essays is included in Barton Springs Eternal. Barton Springs of unusual and beautiful things. In the recently published Barton Springs Eternal, editors Turk Pipkin and Marshall French provide a popular forum for a serious discussion of values. In this collection of oral histories, essays, photographs and historical information about Austin’s famous swimming pool, Barton Springs, ordinary and extraordinary people discuss the meaning of the pool to them, to their families, children, friends. And so, the pool becomes a symbol, a symbol for what binds people to their home and to each other. To understand the reason for the book, it may help the reader who has never been to Barton Springs to understand what it is. Barton Springs is a spring-fed pool, over one-eighth of a mile long, that lies in the middle of Zilker Park, just across the Colorado River from downtown Austin. Contained within two dams on Barton Creek, the springs that feed the pool pump out nearly 30 million gallons of fresh water from the Barton Springs section of the Edwards Aquifer every day. Many Austinites swim in the water, which remains at 68 degrees year round. Regular swimmers are usually there early in the morning. Many of the regulars are elderly. Barton Creek and Barton Springs have been the focal point of an ongoing battle in Austin. Real estate developers are eager to build large developments on the creek, upstream of the ALAN POGUE pool. Other large developments are being built throughout the Barton Springs recharge zone, which covers 90 square miles southwest of the pool. Over the past three years, the battle over development has intensified. On June 7, 1990, nearly a thousand people showed up at City Council chambers in Austin to protest a huge development proposed on Barton Creek, seven miles upstream of the pool. Among the speakers, opposition to the project was almost unanimous. The council voted against the proposal, which was put forth by New Orleans-based Freeport-McMoRan. The squabbles over development continued and the issue was put to a referendum last August. Voters approved the so-called “Save Our Springs” ordinance by an almost two-to-one margin. The ordinance limits development in the Barton Springs watershed to a maximum of 25 percent impervious cover. The idea for producing a book about Barton Springs came from Marshall French of Austin, who began working on the project while studying journalism at the University of Texas. French began interviewing longtime swimmers at the pool, collecting information about the pool history and folklore. Most of his were with older people, the people who had grown up going to Barton Springs. One of the interviews included in the book is with Margaret Scarbrough, who says, “I’m not 20 SEPTEMBER 17, 1993
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