Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
Reminder: Bathroom infrastructure is an urgent issue.
In March, Scotland’s South Lanarkshire Council said it would close all 24 of its public toilets. “Unfortunately, as part of the Scottish Government’s financial settlement, South Lanarkshire Council has had to cut £22 million from its budget,” Council Chief Jackie Burns explained at the time. “[This] has resulted in all public conveniences in the council closing.”
Last weekend, Burns, 51, was caught peeing in the street. From Yahoo! News:
He was waiting in a taxi rank in the early hours of Saturday morning when he suddenly needed the toilet and relieved himself down a nearby lane in Hamilton town centre, Scotland.
He said: “I was approached by police, who gave me a £40 fine which I have duly paid. I am embarrassed by the incident and have apologized.”
Glory be to the gods of revenge, who hath smiled upon this 314,000-person unitary authority.
It should be noted that local community organizations said this would happen months ago. In March, the local news and politics blog Common Space spoke to Scottish Pensioners Forum chairperson Jeanette Pieper, who argued that “public loo” closures all over Scotland would severely limit mobility for the area’s older population.
“Public services are a vital facility for older people, [and] the thought of being caught short when out and about could have a devastating impact on their dignity and quality of life,” Pieper said. Welcome to old age, Councilor Burns.
As Dan Denvir wrote for CityLab earlier this year, bathroom infrastructure is in danger in cities all over the world. In the 8.4 million-person metropolis of New York, for example, city parks hold just 600 public bathrooms. Denvir finds that the sanitation movements of the 19th Century let thousands of public restrooms bloom, but:
many have long since been shuttered thanks in part to crime concerns, and more generally, because of the expansion of facilities in private businesses and homes. (There was also a successful nationwide movement against pay toilets, true story.) Cities in particular suffered as suburbanization and capital flight helped send public services into decline.
“City cores empty out and public restrooms, many superbly managed until then, fall into neglect (along with most everything else),” emails Carol McCreary, co-founder of the Portland, Oregon, group PHLUSH (Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human).
But proper sanitation is a right—at least according to a declaration by the United Nations General Assembly. A city without publicly available restrooms is one that discriminates by design against those who need them most—not just older people but small children, mothers, anyone who menstruates, those with disabilities, people who work on the street, and the homeless.
Back in Scotland, community members have organized to save their public toilets. Maybe Councilor Burns will find room in the public kitty for his change of heart.
H/T: Boing Boing