Second only to palm trees, maybe, pools are one of the most iconic parts of Los Angeles — they dot the landscape as tourists fly into Burbank or LAX.
Geographer Joseph K. Lee and graphic designer Benedikt Gross aren't from L.A., but they were fascinated by those private oases, so they set out to count all the swimming pools in L.A. Basin. They found more than 43,000, and list them in their Big Atlas of LA Pools.
Lee says that originally, he and Gross saw the project as a facetious question: how many pools are there in Los Angeles? But the project quickly grew into more than just a head count.
Using publicly available resources, Lee and Gross compiled the locations of the pools, how old the houses are, crime data, whether or not the homeowner donated money to support California's Proposition 8.
The team decided to study Los Angeles based on Gross' first visit here.
"His idea of L.A. was this desert, that is already having all these water issues," said Lee. "To fly into the country for the first time and to see this array of pools — I think for him it was just really fascinating."
The study took a lot of work. Lee and Gross recruited workers in India to sketch the outlines of pools and crowdsourced their findings through Amazon's Mechanical Turk before publishing the 6,000+ page atlas.
Despite that, Lee — a graduate student of Geography at Vancouver's University of British Columbia and a UCLA alum — says he was shocked to find out how much information was publicly available online.
In their data, the atlas didn't record any pools in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts. Lee cautions the atlas isn't meant to be taken as a serious statistical study.
However, he says, "Even if you go on Google Maps right now, and you were to look at Watts. You can see lots of, sort of temporary pools, that … people have just constructed in their back or in their front yard...it doesn't seem like there's anything more permanent."
Lee is also a native of Vallejo, California. For the record — he didn't grow up with a pool in his backyard, either.