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🏊 A definitive ranking of Pittsburgh’s public pools

A large swimming pool glints in the afternoon sun.

I’m delighted to turn things over to a special guest and someone with whom I spend a large portion of my waking (and sleeping) hours. She spent countless hours this summer in Pittsburgh’s public pools to determine which one was the best overall. Along the way, we visited new neighborhoods, spent time with friends and got to know Pittsburgh’s park system. Without further ado, here’s my partner Jill!

Hi! Introduce yourself and what got you thinking about ranking our pools.

Hello! I’m Jill, a mid-30s native Pittsburgher who works in biomedicine (and The Incline director Colin’s partner ❤️). I set a goal of visiting all of the open Pittsburgh public pools when some friends and I got pool passes at the beginning of the summer. Then, I started looking at where each open pool is located, and realized that it was a really heterogeneous list of locations. I thought it would be fun to have a structured way to compare each pool to the rest.

How did you determine how to rank the pools? Did you have the same process for every pool, and is there a grading scale?

First, I put out a survey on my Instagram account asking people what they thought was important in a public pool experience. There were factors that I knew I wanted to include from the get go, like cleanliness and size, but crowdsourcing provided me with criteria I wouldn’t have thought of, like pool-to-grass ratio and “Lack of creepy looks from old men in the hot tub,” which I broadened to “Absence of cat-calling.” Finally, I lumped similar sets of criteria into distinct categories and made a rubric.

What were some unexpected surprises as you went to every Pittsburgh pool?

The thing that I was most pleasantly surprised by was that I did not have a single completely negative experience at any pool. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true! There were certainly bad surprises, like Highland Park Pool’s maintenance issues and witnessing someone find a pair of shorts (!) in the Jack Stack pool, but I had an overall heartening experience.

Which pools couldn’t you rank and why?

Due to staffing shortages, my options were limited from the start; only 12 of Pittsburgh’s 18 total public pools opened this summer. Of those 12, I only ranked 11 because Sue Murray pool closed due to maintenance issues before I could go there.

Tell our readers about the data itself. What was the average score? 

The average score was 48.5, but as many statistics pros (my own mom included) will tell you, “The average is not the best representation of central tendencies, as it is affected by extreme scores.” In this case, we do have a so-called “extreme” score impacting the average: Moore Pool’s low score of 39. Not only was poor Moore the only pool to score under 40, it is the only pool whose score is not within two standard deviations of the mean (SD = 3.62). Better representations of central tendency are the median and the mode, and in this case, both were 49! (Editor’s note: …Yeah, what she said!)

Why do you think so many pools are tied?

From a statistical standpoint, data points tend to cluster around the middle of the road, creating a bell curve. Based on my experience this summer, it looked like Pittsburgh CitiParks kept up each pool at about the same rate, creating a scenario in which only one pool could be considered an outlier (Moore) – a beautiful “normal” population. While not having all pools open this summer was a bummer, it allowed for a more consistent experience since staff and resources weren’t spread thin – if all 19 had been open, I’m thinking the curve would’ve been less bell shaped and more flat with a greater number of extreme scores.

What would you change if you did this again?

I’d make it a point to get to more pools earlier in the summer; I’m still sad I didn’t make it to Sue Murray in time. I’d also include a category about accessibility. In many of the comments in my ratings I note things like bathroom and general pool access, but I didn’t have an actual accessibility row in my rubric. Next summer, I’ll plan on including that, since it is really important!

The pools

No. 11: Moore (39 points)

A large, crowded pool in front of a brick recreation center.
Moore Pool is located in Brookline.

What makes Moore special? 

Moore pool is an ENORMOUS pool, with a stadium aesthetic. It’s located on Pioneer Ave in Brookline, which is an area of the city that I wasn’t familiar with before going there. Rating this pool was also special, because we went with our friends, and their 5-year old and 18-month-old were my guest co-raters.

Why did it rank where it did?

You hate to see it, but Moore pool really fell down on locker room cleanliness — low marks in that category hurt their overall score. While it was big, it didn’t get very deep (6 feet), so there was no diving. It also isn’t very walkable.

No. 10: Schenley (46 points)

A pool lies down a grassy hill in a tree-filled park.
Schenley Pool is located in the heart of Schenley Park between Oakland and Squirrel Hill.

What makes Schenley special? 

It’s where I saw my first spotted lantern fly! I helped a man identify the pest and kill it (*pats self on back for being an upstanding citizen*). It’s also located in beautiful Schenley park, and has nice newer lockers in the locker room.

Why did it rank where it did?

Schenley pool had a pretty solid rating until it came to adult swim. Due to the aforementioned staffing shortages, they did not have adult lap swim.

No. 8 (tie): Jack Stack (48 points)

A large pool sits perched on a tree-lined hilltop.
Jack Stack Pool is located near the city border in Brighton Heights.

What makes Jack Stack special? 

As you’ll notice in the superlatives, Jack Stack is my favorite pool of this summer. It has a really cool sculpture that doubles as a shower, and its overall vibe is very welcoming. I also just like the name, to be honest.

Why did it rank where it did?

Even though it is my favorite, walkability and size were big hurdles for this pool. When you have huge pools like Highland Park and Moore, it makes little guys like Jack Stack get comparatively lower scores.

No. 8 (tie): Westwood (48 points)

A small public pool is nestled among trees beyond a long concrete ramp.
Westwood Pool is named for its West End neighborhood and sits near a school and little league ballfield.

What makes Westwood special? 

This was the first pool I rated, and the only pool with an open concession stand (this may have been due to the adjacent Little League game). 

Why did it rank where it did?

The entire facility was quite clean, and the aforementioned snack situation bolstered the score, but low walkability, smaller size, and relatively little shade brought it down in the rankings.

No. 5 (tie): Riverview (49 points)

A wide empty pool lies beneath a modernist concrete balcony.
Riverview Pool is located below the Allegheny Observatory in Riverview Park.

What makes Riverview special? 

It’s a really cool location – situated close to the top of the hill in Riverview Park, you are surrounded by greenery and can even see the top of the Allegheny Observatory while taking a swim. 

Why did it rank where it did?

While it’s on the larger side, the location acted as a double-edged sword. While the park is beautiful, it makes this pool pretty secluded and not the easiest to get to.

No. 5 (tie): Bloomfield (49 points)

A wide swimming pool surrounded by sunbathers in a dense rowhouse neighborhood.
A typical sunny afternoon at Bloomfield Beach.

What makes Bloomfield special? 

Where to start with the Bloomfield Beach? The walkability/bikeability of this pool is awesome — it’s steps away from bus lines, restaurants, bars, and shops on Liberty Ave. It’s also an ICONIC respite from the heat for local hipsters, punks, and generally cool, tattooed Pittsburgh hotties.

Why did it rank where it did?

Bloomfield pool is the ONLY pool to achieve a perfect score in any category, with an 18/18 in “Adult Considerations.” It’s tied for fifth, though, due to few kid-friendly amenities (no kiddie pool, and the mushroom was broken all summer), and limited shade.

No. 5 (tie): Ammon (49 points)

A long pool near a large community center and a mural painted on a retaining wall.
Ammon Pool is located near Bedford Dwellings in the historic Hill District.

What makes Ammon special? 

Definitely the location in the Hill, just up the street from the August Wilson House, makes this pool special. There’s a colorful mural at the pool’s entrance, and the attached community center is in use, with championship banners hanging from the rafters! I’d also be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to the water polo league that practices there — earning the superlative of Sportiest Pool.

Why did it rank where it did?

While an excellent facility for sport and an overall large pool, there were no areas for little kids to wade or splash around (the minimum depth was three feet. The cleanliness of the locker room (superlative winner for Cleanest Bathroom!) and overall friendliness of the staff and coaches lifted the score, though.

🥉 (tie): Ream (50 points)

A small pool surrounded by trees and houses in a hilly neighborhood.
Ream Pool is at the heart of Mt. Washington.

What makes Ream special? 

This was the only pool I went to where there was NO GRASS. All lounging/towel areas were on concrete. You might think this would be a detractor, but it really wasn’t that bad. It’s also right next to an adorable community garden, and nestled in some tall trees, so that made it feel more green.

Why did it rank where it did?

The high scores in Adult Considerations boosted this pool up where its lower scores in “Amenities for All” brought it down. Generally, pools did not rank high on the Snack Situation criteria unless they were walking distance from a grocery store or gas station — limited concessions were a burden for almost every pool!

🥉 (tie): Ormsby (50 points)

A pool in a greenspace near a busy intersection surrounded by brick buildings.
Ormsby is right at the Birmingham Bridge in the Southside Flats.

What makes Ormsby special? 

This is one of the better-known Pittsburgh pools, since it is located right where Carson Street meets the Birmingham Bridge in the South Side. Along with an adjacent library, playground, deck hockey rink, and community garden, Ormsby pool offers a calm area at an otherwise chaotic intersection.

Why did it rank where it did?

High scores in three out of the four categories got this pool into a tie for third place. It kissed out on points for not having tables/benches or a dedicated kiddie area.

🥈: Magee (52 points)

A pool in a lush valley with a three-story concrete building behind.
Magee Pool is tucked away in a park at the center of Greenfield.

What makes Magee special? 

Simply put, this pool is charming AF. Its location on busy Greenfield Avenue might sound busy, but its distance from traffic, subdued near an active living center and baseball fields with walls that read, “MAGEE GREENFIELD – A FINE RESIDENTIAL COMMUNITY,” made me so happy. No wonder it won the “Most Charming” superlative (see further down).

Why did it rank where it did?

This is an example of a smaller pool that got all of its proportions right. High marks for shade-to-grass and grass-to-pool ratio boosted its score, as well as its proximity to places like Rialto Pizza and Hough’s put Magee Pool in second place.

🥇: Highland Park (54 points) – Winner of the Poolitzer Prize!

A massive public pool among the trees of Highland Park.
Highland Park contains the largest CitiParks pool.

What makes Highland Park special? 

Ah, Highland Park Pool — I think I referred to it as “The Beast In The East” when I rated it on my Instagram account (please don’t sue me, Killington). It’s huge, but it doesn’t feel industrial. The adjacent beach volleyball courts and fishing pond under lush trees give it a true urban oasis feel.

Why did it rank where it did?

Size matters, baby! This pool is so big, closing down the deep end of it due to maintenance issues did not hamper any swimmers’ ability to take a dip. There is a separate kiddie pool that’s about half the size of some of the smaller Pittsburgh pools, as well as a separate spray area with a working mushroom fountain. Vending machines, as well as the consistent presence of a snack truck near the entrance, pushed this pool to be the only pool over one standard deviation above from the mean — a solid winner without being an outlier!

Pool superlatives

  • Pool with the cleanest bathrooms: Ammon
  • Best pool to see and be seen: Bloomfield
  • Most charming pool: Magee
  • Sportiest pool: Ammon
  • Rater’s favorite: Jack Stack

Any parting thoughts?

Y’know, I just love going to the pool, and for most of my life I considered it purely an act of recreation. At the beginning of this summer, though, public outcry about which Pittsburgh pools would be closed demonstrated that public pools play a crucial role in our lives as city-dwellers. With summers getting hotter every year, pools serve as a public health aide for necessary cooling — especially for households without central AC. Further, pools provide a safe place where kids can spend time while school is out. At almost every pool I visited, lifeguards knew the names of the regular kids and kept a close eye on them. Public pools are gems in our city’s landscape, giving us all a place to cool down, relax, and be part of a community we may not otherwise see if we didn’t venture out to take a dip.

In closing: Sorry we couldn’t bring you this feature before the end of pool season, but it took all summer to get to every pool. Of course, you should form your own opinions and check out all our other public amenities in the meantime. If you wanna take a dip in the off-season, consider a visit to the Oliver Bath House this fall!