User Fees and the Permeability of Public Space at Municipal Pools and Bathhouses in New York City, 1870 - Present

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Urban Geography

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This paper examines fees for access to New York City’s public swimming and bathing spaces from 1870 to the present. We argue that, beyond generating revenue and rationing space, charges for admission to public bathing spaces have served to condition how permeable those spaces were to various groups of potential users. Municipal actors involved in administering baths and pools have used fees to maintain and order these spaces; to distinguish between deserving and undeserving users; and to include and exclude participants in an ostensibly universal public. Over time, fees have been naturalized, erasing these motivations and giving cause to their outcomes. We problematize the fee in order to address both theoretical questions about the nature of public space and practical ones about how municipal administrators govern amidst competing pressures to serve, develop and regulate urban residents and their communities.


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