Visit some major North American cities and you will notice an ample supply of public restrooms that are free for anyone to use. Visit other cities and you will find that public restrooms are in short supply. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. However, there is plenty of debate. Should cities provide public restrooms, or should they not?
The public restroom debate is born out of the reality that both city residents and suburban visitors need access to facilities throughout the day. That access generally isn’t a problem for workers in as much as their employers provide restrooms for their use. But not everybody moving around the city is working.
Some are in the city availing themselves of certain services. Some are there for work, but they work exclusively outdoors. Others are simply homeless. What do these people do when they need access to restroom facilities? This is the question and debate all wrapped into one.
Here are five things often lost in the debate over public restrooms:
1. Where to Build Them
Deciding to build public restrooms is one thing but figuring out where to build them is another matter altogether. Quite frankly, a lot of North American cities just don’t have a whole lot of space to work with. There is also the question of how public restrooms might affect properties with already existing buildings. For example, do you want to build a public restroom right in front the library? How will that facility affect the library’s curb appeal?
2. Who Will Pay for Them
Up next is the question of who will pay for public restrooms. The answer to that question is not as easy as it seems. We are not talking a simple matter of a temporary property tax increase to cover construction costs. Construction is just the start. Municipalities also have to spend money on maintenance.
One potential solution to the cost problem is to charge people a nominal fee for using the restrooms. This has been tried in the past with mixed results. Permanent property tax increases are another solution, but where do they end?
3. Who Will Maintain Them
Public restroom maintenance is always an issue. Again, it is not as easy as it seems. Salt Lake City’s Alsco says that maintaining a clean restroom means paying attention to everything from fixtures to floors and roll towels. Even air freshening systems have to be considered. All of this costs time and money.
Cities have to ask whether or not they have the resources to maintain the public restrooms they build. Do they have the manpower? Do they have the budgets to use restroom facility cleaning services like Alsco?
4. How They Will Be Policed
Cities that do offer public restrooms frequently run into policing problems. Unfortunately, public restrooms are a haven for all sorts of illegal activity ranging from drug use to prostitution. Building an entire collection of public restrooms just gives police more property to have to look after.
5. What They Should Look Like
Last but not least is architectural design. One architect might want to create a beautiful work of public art that doubles as a restroom. Another might want to stick with something that, while aesthetically bland, is fully functional and more affordable. Which design do you go with?
The debate over public restrooms tends to center mainly around whether or not it is fair to city residents to not have them. But there is a lot more to it than that. Building and maintaining public restrooms is not a minor endeavor. It is complicated on multiple levels.