The designation and restoration of urban bathing waters in European cities has many socio-economic benefits. Based on scientific and applied research and the outcomes of an expert stakeholder workshop, we present them in the report "Benefits of bathing waters in European cities" which highlights five key themes relating to urban bathing in Europe:
1. Europe has numerous historical urban bathing cultures. People have bathed in European cities for centuries. As a result, bathing has shaped how many urban areas have developed through tourism and recreation. Urban bathing is currently enjoying a renaissance across Europe, as cleaner seas, rivers, and lakes have encouraged the return of bathing and wild swimming communities.
2. Clean and safe urban bathing waters in Europe foster many socio-economic benefits. These include direct benefits to bathers, and indirect benefits to the health of the wider ecosystem and the services it can provide to humans. Increased bathing water quality has the potential to generate significant value through the increased recreational use and enjoyment of bathing sites. Many city planners and residents are increasingly recognising the recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual values of bathing sites as well as the opportunities they offer for leisure and socialising.
3. Around half of European citizens living in towns and cities have access to urban bathing sites. Bathing waters are a valuable attribute of urban public spaces and can act as a motive for public and political action across entire catchments. Of all the European bathing waters, almost 10 % (1 823) are located in 193 cities with more than 100 000 inhabitants. Citizens often use bathing waters close to their homes, emphasising the importance and value of maintaining and expanding local urban bathing sites.
4. There are numerous ‘invisible’ benefits of clean and healthy urban bathing waters to both citizens and ecosystems. These often occur over large areas and long timescales, and interact with wider policy and management concerns. The maintenance of bathing waters can benefit urban drinking water supplies and help mitigate the effects of climate change on city environments. Urban bathing waters are often sites where innovative new approaches to environmental management, such as real-time water quality monitoring, are developed. Overall, urban bathing waters can contribute strongly to improvements in public space and quality of life for city inhabitants.
5. There are still significant challenges for restoring urban bathing waters across Europe. Following decades of targeted environmental legislation water quality has improved in many – but not all – urban areas in Europe. However, there are still significant challenges relating to water pollution, habitat alterations and climate change, and at present, many urban waters across Europe remain unsuitable for bathing due to excessive levels of pollutants posing public health risks.
Urban bathing waters are a valuable symbol of sustainable European cities, where citizens can interact with urban nature as a result of the successes of long-term environmental management. The opening of each new urban bathing water and the continued maintenance of clean, safe bathing water should be met by praise and encouragement. We need to preserve and protect bathing waters in cities, both for ourselves and for future generations.
The detailed ETC ICM report, co-authored by our experts, is available from the Eionet website: ETC/ICM Report 4/2022: Benefits of bathing waters in European cities