Cumberland Pool is good for Cleveland Heights
Labor Day always marks the end of the swimming season at Cumberland Pool. It’s a disappointing moment for me and the rest of the swimming crowd. I’ve spent as much time as possible at this community treasure during the last 40 summers. It is where we get to hang out together and encounter friends and strangers who share our interests. This is a public space, and the public uses it!
I love the sounds of splashing water, youthful horsing around, and quiet conversations. It’s the best place to cool off, exercise, watch the clouds and feel like I’m part of our community.
You can enjoy the pool at every stage of life. Little kids cool off, play and learn to swim—a life skill. Teenagers have an inviting place to enjoy with their friends. Young families have a destination where they can discover other young families. And lap swimmers have plenty of space to work out.
The pool is also a workplace for lifeguards and other staff. It’s a wonderful place for our high schoolers to build their résumés, while they keep us safe and serve as role models for younger kids. Each year these energetic young people work with the kids to pull off a water show for the community—another project with multiple benefits.
There is nothing that epitomizes the Cumberland experience more than the deep-water aerobics class that meets on Saturdays. Joyce Braverman, who grew up in the neighborhood and for whom summer vacation meant going to the pool, has been teaching the class for nearly 25 years. It’s a multi-generational gathering of mostly women who strap on flotation belts and go through a series of exercises that help develop core strength. Many have participated for years.
Braverman, the Shaker Heights planning director, said she has stuck with the Saturday class that she loves because, “It is good exercise and allows people to get moving at their own pace. And it builds community.”
When I watched the class on the final Saturday of the swim season, there were about 20 women spread across the diving area in neat lines. Braverman would raise her voice to give directions, and the swimmers would, in a seemingly effortless fashion, change position or move to a different location, all while maintaining their conversations. It’s both a physical and social activity! At the end of the class, they gathered for a farewell picnic.
The exercise class is a community. When the pool was closed earlier in the pandemic, the regulars met at Cumberland to celebrate birthdays in drive-by parades; and when one of the senior members, Sheila Blechman, passed away, they honored her life with an artistic balloon sendoff.
The swimming pool is one example of something that social scientist and Palaces for the People author Eric Klinenberg calls social infrastructure, physical places that shape the way people interact. The face-to-face contact that occurs naturally when people have a place to interact are the building blocks of public life. “When people engage in sustained, recurrent interaction, particularly while doing things they enjoy,” he noted, “relationships inevitably grow. . . . Building places where all kinds of people can gather is the best way to repair the fractured societies we live in today.”
The Cumberland community is made up of all kinds of people whose summer routines include time at the pool. We are enriched by the time we spend there, and the benefits last beyond swim season. Our experiences nurture pride in our community, and anticipation of the next swim season helps us get through the winter.
Susie Kaeser moved to Cleveland Heights in 1979. She is the former director of Reaching Heights and is active with the Heights Coalition for Public Education and the League of Women Voters. A community booster, she is the author of a book about local activism, Resisting Segregation.