A friend recently told me that his childhood neighborhood had just one backyard pool. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was heated and large enough to accommodate cannonballs. All the kids on the block referred to the homeowners as “the rich people.” Back then, pools equaled wealth.

Today, many people still regard pools as luxury items. But we all know that, strictly speaking, they are wrong. Even in this down market, I wonder if it’s just a matter of time until, for most suburban neighborhoods, pools become as common as patios.

When Sony introduced the Walkman in 1979, critics insisted it would never catch on: The idea of a “personal” stereo system was — excuse the pun — unheard of. What’s more, it was unsocial. In fact, the first Walkmans contained two earphone jacks so that owners could share their music with friends. Today, of course, personal portable stereo systems such as iPods are considered indispensable to just about anyone under the age of 50.

This shift required only a small change in the public consciousness. Likewise, 20 years ago, no one would have imagined that a city could support a coffee shop on every corner, especially if they were selling simple drinks for four bucks each. Today, any town with a stoplight is likely to have at least one Starbucks. With a good idea and the right marketing, what was once considered a luxury is now an integral part of life.

Is it possible for such a thing to happen in the pool business? Sure. An inspired inventor might produce the means by which the construction and/or maintenance of a pool is suddenly, and drastically, reduced. Or a marketer might find a way to bring an “it” factor to swimming pools to the degree that no one wants to live without one.

All it takes is that one tipping point in the public consciousness. That one great idea. And it could come from anywhere. It might even come from you.