The Importance of Public Toilets

If you’re in downtown Provo and you need to use the restroom, where do you go? If you’re a visitor to the city or a newcomer, the answer is probably “back to the hotel” or “just hold it.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, however, Portland is a great place to use the facilities in public. Apparently, the northwestern city where “young people go to retire” has recently invested in six public toilets designed to thwart normal problems including loitering and graffiti.

The solar-powered, 6-by-101/2 -foot street-corner cabin, ingeniously stripped of much of its plumbing and privacy, has been installed at six locations around Portland, from the city’s dodgiest centers for the homeless to an upscale waterfront where stay-at-home moms take their children to play.

The toilets are also designed to be easy to clean and hard to damage.

The article goes on to explain that public toilets are something of a design riddle for American cities; they’re considered necessary but difficult to successfully deploy.

Perhaps that’s why Provo has very little in the way of public restrooms in downtown. All the restaurants have facilities and the Provo Town Square has a legitimate public bathroom, but none of these spots are easy to locate or clearly marked.

This seems like a small issue, but it does matter. The result of inadequate public restrooms is that visitors can end up either uncomfortable or leaving downtown altogether. The city becomes less walkable for elderly people. Event organizers have to spend more money on temporary toilets, as the Rooftop Concert Series currently does. I’ve even seen people urinating on downtown sidewalks, which presumably would happen less if there were more publicly available restrooms.

Provo has few public restrooms, so event organizers are required to spend more money on toilets like these.

Clearly marking the existing public toilets in downtown would be a good way to begin solving this problem. But if Provo wants downtown to be a destination filled with people it needs to be equipped to handle the things people do. That means eventually taking a cue from Portland and adding more public restrooms.

The operators of the Riverwoods, where this picture was taken, understand that public restrooms are an integral part of a successful space. Unfortunately, downtown doesn’t even have something like this sign.

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