Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Meet the City Hall worker who went “guerrilla tubing” in the City Hall fountain
He purposely went against City Hall rules to test the waters.
DALLAS On a hot Sunday in late July, Dallas City Hall worker Patrick McDonnell and a friend waded into the waist-deep fountain in front of the iconic city building. It was McDonnell’s second time swimming in the City Hall fountain, an act that violates city ordinance 31-1. Urban planner McDonnell is well aware that he broke City Hall rules, but this small act of “guerrilla tubing” was his attempt to test the waters, hoping someday the fountain could be used recreationally.
Swimmin’ the Dallas City Hall Fountain
Floats in hand, McDonnell and a friend splashed in the fountain for about 35 minutes before a security guard politely asked them to get out. And they did.
“We took the risk to see what would happen, not because we were trying to break the law or be instigators, but because what’s the big deal?” McDonnell asked.
City Hall spokesperson Frank Librio says the filtration and chlorination system aren’t designed to handle swimming or human contact, and that the space was designed to be decorative instead of recreational. The 180-foot-in-diameter fountain also contains floating sculptures designed by artist Marta Pan that the city doesn’t want damaged.
But should McDonnell decide to take a dip again -- and he certainly enjoyed it the first and second time -- guards will simply ask him to get out, Librio said. McDonnell works at City Hall as an intern for the CityDesign Studio but is paid by AmeriCorps. McDonnell would be treated the same as a non-employee who took a dip in the pool, Librio said.
“It's not a swimming pool, and we don't want to ruin it,” Librio said.
McDonnell is one of the organizers of the Living Plaza, a once-a-month event where the space in front of City Hall is turned into a place to meet, greet and eat. McDonnell said several security guards have told him that the fountain isn’t for swimming because “homeless people use it as a bathroom,” he said.
McDonnell isn't buying it. “I think it’s a scare tactic,” he said.
The fountain is cleaned every weekday with chlorine. It’s maintained by a contractor company hired by the parks department, Librio said.
One of the most memorable uses of the fountain was in 1984 on City Hall Beach Day, when hundreds came out in bathing suits to take a dip in front of the I.M. Pei structure. “The damage exceeded the public benefit,” Librio said in an email.
McDonnell isn’t giving up. From his City Hall window, he looks at the plaza on workdays and dreams up ideas of how it could be used. He plans to suggest a Beach Day before his internship ends in November.
“The plaza sometimes feels like a big metaphor,” he said. “It’s really pretty, but you can’t use it, so that makes it awful. And if you do try to use it, they cage it up. If you try to go in the fountain, they tell you to get out. You can look but you can’t touch.”
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