John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Also, a look at Singapore's intense campaign to reform dag-nasty bathrooms.
Warning: This Toilet Tuesday is "smelly," "pungent":
FAREWELL TO THE MANURE EXPRESS, IN INDIA
For decades, Indian engineers have relied on a nifty way to clear human waste from public trains: Just dump it onto the track. But now they're beginning to question the wisdom of that nasty practice.
In addition to being a public-health hazard, the excrement has proven damaging to the national infrastructure. The Indian government estimates that its train tracks suffer require about $67 million in annual repairs due to corrosive urine and feces. So the country has set a goal for itself: Install new “green” toilets in 2,500 coaches by June 2013. The environmentally friendly toilet push, featuring retention and vacuum toilets, will culminate in a complete eradication of “direct discharge” commodes by 2022. With luck, that will also eradicate a different problem: newborn babies falling through the toilet and onto the tracks.
BATHROOM PATRIOTISM, IN SINGAPORE
More than three quarters of dirty public toilets in Singapore are the direct result of "irresponsible users," according to a recent survey by the Restroom Association of Singapore. (Lesser causes of filth: poor design, inadequate cleaning, reports Reuters.) That dismal finding means that the association's attempts to reform Singaporean bathroom habits still has a ways to go. The group, whose motto is "a gracious society embracing excellence in restroom culture,” began fighting for cleaner toilets in 2008 by launching a campaign called Let's Observe Ourselves (LOO). The effort is intended to educate owners and users about basic stuff like "toilet etiquette, personal hygiene and public health.”
Each year, the association gives out LOO Awards for "Best Happy Toilet" (dry floors, no odor and "special delights" are all a plus) and most-devoted bathroom custodian. Susanti Wu Wan Qin won the latter honor in 2010 after a committee noted that she “[w]orks diligently from 5.00 a.m. to 10.30 p.m. daily with only a day of rest on the first day of Chinese New Year, without a word of complaint.” The organization isn't above shaming those who fail to meet the mark, though. On its website, you can browse an interactive map of Singapore's worst crappers. Negative reviews include this writeup of a throne near a public-transit hub: “It's a disgrace to Singapore having promoted itself as a green city when this toilet which foreigners would have to utilize while waiting for to board the train at the checkpoint. Toilets are spoiled, can't be flushed, etc." And then there's this one at Peace Centre 1: “Very smelly! Pungent!”
Top image courtesy of a passenger train in Uttar Pradesh by Danish Siddiqui/Reuters.