People with an interest in public infrastructure, but also people interested in how our public choices impact who can enjoy being out in public.
In a nutshell:
Author Lowe explores the problems with the (lack of) public toilets across many countries.
“I grew up being socialized to expect a line for the bathroom. I spent decades so desensitized to the indignity that I never questioned it.”
Quoting someone interviewed for the book: “Public bathrooms are part of that infrastructure, the same way roads and other things are. And if you can’t even get that right, how can we go further?”
Why I chose it:
I always have to pee.
No, seriously, I always have to pee. It’s not a medical issue – I just am often in search of a toilet. When the first round of lockdown restrictions were lifted in England, I was so excited to go for walks further than a few blocks near my house, but we were definitely limited in maybe 30 minutes out, because within an hour (maybe 90 minutes), I would need a toilet, and London doesn’t have loads of public toilets. When I fly, I get an aisle seat. And before I leave the house to do ANYTHING, I always use the loo.
For Lowe, the recognition that public toilets are often a bit of a shit show came when she had young children and had to navigate staircases down into dirty, often locked public bathrooms in parks. And for many people with no mobility or other challenges that can make using the toilet more than a simple affair, having children is when they start to realize that there are not a lot of places where literally anyone can go to relieve themselves. In those moment of realization, she decided to explore public provision of toilets.
But she doesn’t just think about how people with children are impacted. She takes on how this affects people experiencing homelessness – loads of NIMBY types get super angry about people peeing and taking a shit in the street, but if there aren’t any toilets, where on earth do you expect them to go? Lowe also explores accessibility, and how the needs for some folks are going to be different than the needs of others. She looks at how the compromises city planners make when putting in the rare public toilet make those toilets even worse (think about the pretty gross stainless steel, seat-less wonders found in many parks). And thankfully she also looks at how the strict division of gender in toileting harms trans people – along with people who care for others of another gender who need to use the toilet.
On thing that she mentioned that really stuck out to me was how awful it as that so many people who are working don’t have access to toilets during their shifts. Yes, we’ve heard of the Amazon delivery drivers peeing into bottles because they don’t have time to stop. But even if they had the time – where are they going to pee? Where are taxi drivers and other ‘gig’ economy workers who don’t have offices going to relieve themselves? They’re also peeing into bottles. And as Lowe says: “Just imagine any of these solutions applying to the average office worker: ‘Sorry, Mildred, you can’t leave your cubicle today. Just toss your urine out the window. Hope you aren’t on your period. Ta ta.’”
It is absurd that society seems to just be … okay with our governments not providing space for everyone to do one of the most basic of human functions. Not everyone can afford to buy a muffin every time they need to take a shit. Not everyone feels comfortable sneaking into a pub on a Saturday evening when the patrons have been drinking all day. We expect our governments to provide services that allow us to live in the world – things like roads that take us into the city center. We should also expect them to provide the services that allow us to actually make use of the city center once we get there.
Lowe approaches this topic from so many different directions that it could have been a mess, but instead, it is well-written, well-edited, and fun to read.
Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it: