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The Argument for Public Restrooms Everywhere, All the Time, Always

Source: Reuters/Business Insider

A few years back, I was traveling in Istanbul. It’s a beautiful city, obviously, and, coming from New York, I was impressed by the city’s history at every turn. But mostly, I was struck by the plentiful public restrooms available. Clean, conveniently-located, and free (or nearly free), these restrooms were there when I needed them, and made traveling in a new city much more comfortable. When I got back home, I realized how difficult it is to find public restrooms (the New York Times agrees), at least in the U.S. and specifically in New York. Either they aren’t available, poorly marked, or so disgusting that it’s better to just hold it.

Look, talking about restrooms isn’t pretty, and it usually isn’t a polite topic of conversation. But I want – no, need – to talk about them. U.S. cities need to take a page out of European and Asian cities’ books and start making public restrooms more available and more comfortable. I understand why making public restrooms a part of a city’s infrastructure is difficult – maintaining restrooms is a *~*shitty*~* job. And who knows what goes on behind closed doors? Can we really trust all of our fellow residents and visitors to use restrooms for their intended purpose? Gross and a potential public safety concern? No, thank you!

But seriously, yes thank you. Let’s build public restrooms all across our cities. Let’s add them near landmarks, in all public transportation stations, and in all parks and playgrounds. New York tried and failed with self-cleaning bathrooms more than 10 years ago (one-fourth no longer work and the others are either constantly closed or definitely not self-cleaning), but technology has improved. If cost is truly prohibitive, perhaps a city can charge a small fee, 50 cents, let’s say, per public restroom use where foot traffic is highest. We see this in many European cities, and it seems to be a successful system. But, if I’m being honest, when push comes to shove, adding more public restrooms just really wouldn’t be that expensive. At least not as expensive as that Americano you had to buy to use the bathroom, amirite?!

In the end, clean public restrooms benefit everyone. It makes a city more functional and more pleasant, not only for residents but for those who work or visit. As someone who has frantically run into Starbucks and restaurants looking for a restroom more times than I can count, having a publicly available one nearby would make my urban experience that much more enjoyable. And, I’d assume yours as well.




Photo source: Reuters / Business Insider

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