walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Today's obsessive topic was: public restrooms

I was wasting time on the internet, and saw coverage at gawker about public toilets in SF, quoting an activist claiming that this wasn't a hard problem, people around the world have solved it, etc.

I objected to that, cited a few things that came to mind, and then went in search of more data. And here is what I have concluded.

(1) When you buy or rent space, whether at a hostel or hotel, in a single family home or multi family residence, retail space, commercial space, etc., any space at all, the number and quality of the bathrooms is a huge cost driver. Anyone who has ever paid for space anywhere knows this, on some level.

(2) Shared bathrooms are nasty. Again, anyone who has ever had a roommate or used a public facility, or gone to the 'stroom at a restaurant or whatever and gone ick, knows this, on some level.

(3) Public 'strooms in dense urban areas with a high number of people passing through -- whether bar hoppers, the homeless, or Yuppies shopping in La Conner, WA -- are hard to find, expensive to maintain and have lines. Depending on the level of anti-social behavior in the area and the amount of money to spend on policing, the 'strooms may, in addition to disgustingness associated missing the potty or just plain not getting there in time, be used as a sheltered area for illegal activity.

(4) The need doesn't go away just because you don't satisfy it. Commercial ('strooms at the bar, in the museum, etc.) facilities may in some places take up the slack, but again, dense areas with a lot of people passing through tend not to have adequate commercial facilities, because that would be heinously expensive.

It should be obvious, BUT APPARENTLY IT IS NOT, that providing clean, safe, public 'strooms in areas like Pioneer Square, the Tenderloin, Venice (LA, CA, not the one in Italy), Amsterdam, Cardiff and many, many, many other places, is a CRAZY HARD, EXPENSIVE PROBLEM. In order to solve the problem, you (as a city) will need the following.

(1) Paid attendants. Paid by the city. Paid by the user. Paid by fundraising from the merchants in the area through the chamber of commerce. But someone needs to pay the attendants. What, you think you don't need attendants. Wow, you are a stupid, stupid person. I'm not going to waste time explaining it.

(2) Facilities, and a capex budget to maintain them. The toilets will break. The plumbing will break. The mirrors will break. Then there are the operating expenses over and above the attendants: Every disposable product will need to be replenished. You need to keep it lit and that will cost you money. It will need cleaning supplies. Etc. Idiots will graffiti the place, especially if you cheaped it up on attendants or policing.

(3) Security, either in the form of police on call who show up very quickly, or a dedicated security service. Cameras are not an adequate deterrent.

People _think_ they can handle stuff with robots and get the power from solar and the water from rainwater and pay for it all with advertising. Turns out, that doesn't work in most places, either because of anti-social behavior, or inadequate ad revenue, or whatever. People _think_ they can rely on community enforcement, and things like exposure for the bottom foot and a half so you can tell if someone is in there having sex. Good luck with that; in some places, the _cops_ routinely see people heading into the loo in pairs. And I don't mean mummy and child.

We SHOULD make public provision for this most basic of needs. Tourists need strooms. Bar hoppers needs strooms (altho I'm a little hazy on why we can't make the bars supply strooms -- they supplied the drink. What's up with that?). Homeless people need strooms. Etc. But if we are going to do this successfully, and for real, and not just replace Our Brilliant Idea with something else 5-10 years down the line, we are going to have to actually _recognize_ the scope of the problem.

Tenderloin Pit Stop seems to be a genuine effort to do so. I applaud it.
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