Tuesday, 4 December 2007

The City that Never Pees

I was surprised to discover today that New York has a real toilet problem. I wonder how much this has to do with Americans' distaste of the word 'toilet'. Whatver the reason, tourists to the Big Apple are warned to plan toilet breaks in advance!

The Bathroom Diaries has a staggering FIVE entries for New York city, all of which are either hotels or restaurants. Compare this to 26 for Sydney (in hotels, art galleries, train stations, public spaces) or over 100 in London, a city not usually renowned for its abundance of public conveniences.

It seems that again and again New Yorkers have been promised public toilets in their cities, but nothing has yet eventuated. An article in the New York Times last week calls it the "long, bitter history of the absent public toilets of New York". For a bit of light relief, however, a toilet paper company has installed 20 temporary public toilets in Times Square, but only until the end of the year.

Visitors to New York are promised that there will be toilets by the end of the year. And they've been promising that since 2005. No, wait, since 1997. New Yorkers may have to keep their legs crossed just a little bit longer.

Of course, it's not all doom and gloom. For those of you who like to go in style, check out New York Toilets.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Toilet Trophies

I’ve traveled the world quite a bit and in various countries I’ve sometimes seen a toilet displaying a plaque proudly stating that it is a winner of some toilet award or other - from caravan parks in Australia to the Forbidden City in Beijing. I don’t know why this is particularly surprising. Public toilets must be among the most useful public buildings in any city and it makes sense that good ones should be acknowledged.

The Bathroom Diaries give an annual Golden Plunger to the best ‘bathroom’ in the world. This year’s winner is the toilets in Kawakawa, Bay of Islands, New Zealand. Designed by Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser the toilets are a monument to glass and curves.

This year, the British Toilet Association will be celebrating 20 years of Loos of the Year. Interest is clearly high in this prestigious event, with corporate sponsorship and a 33% increase in the number of entries received. There are several categories taking in the broad spectrum of facilities available and a section for attendants. The “Premier League” table pits local authorities against each other, with Highland the clear winner last year.

Toilets even have their own category at the UK Festival Awards – the winner this year was The Big Chill held at Eastnor Castle, Herts. Anyone who has been up to their ankles in mud and other people’s urine knows how important good festival toilets are!

All these awards are national or international affairs and while they bring a bit of glamour and excitement to the toilet world, I must say that all I really want from a toilet is a sensible layout and reasonable cleanliness. Perhaps we could all make a point of thanking councils simply when they get it right – not necessarily brilliantly white.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Very Normal People Pee

A number of articles have come out of the UK this week about various Community Toilet Schemes.

The scheme was initially trialled in Surrey, with the local council paying £600 to pubs and businesses to allow passers-by to use their facilities. The Publican reports that the scheme has been generally successful. Frank Dupree, from the Cabbage Patch in Twickenham, says, "I’d recommended it to other licensees, it’s generally brought in very normal people who have been caught short."

Other councils interested in or trialling the scheme are the London Boroughs of Waltham Forest, Camden and Three Rivers.

Of course, the Community Toilet Scheme only helps people who are out and about during regular opening hours. It wasn't any use to Sam Jordison who found himself without a pot to piss in at Shepherd's Bush. In his article in the Guardian today he claims that "over the last 10 years, the number of public toilets in the UK has been cut by more than half." That's a staggering statistic considering that the UK population, and hence the number of people needing to use public toilets, has increased by 0.9% per year.

Still, it's a step in the right direction and will benefit streets, smells, shops and shoppers. And shitters.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Bog Roll 01

Most of my observations about toilet etiquette are made at work. My work toilets are located in the stairwell between two floors, meaning that we share our toilets with the ladies from the floor below. So when I notice a breach in etiquette, I don't know who to point the finger at: one of my lot, or one of the lot downstairs.

And there is someone on my floor or the one below who commits the gravest of toilet faux pas - not changing the toilet roll. That empty cardboard roll with a wisp of white paper whispering in the wind is dead - and they leave it on the holder. It is a skeleton in their closet.

Of course, what really disturbs me is that it may not be just one person. What if the whole floor is in on it? Or both floors? What if they're all purposely leaving that dead roll on the holder, thinking 'oh well, the next person can deal with that'? Or worse, what if they're not doing it on purpose? The horror! They actually just don't think about it!

To combat this disaster in a cubicle, I'm producing a series of community notices. Just to help people remember that there are rules about using public toilets.

World Toilet Summit 2007

The World Toilet Summit has just wrapped up in New Delhi. Supported by the great people at the World Toilet Organisation, the summit was a platform for government organisations, non-government organisations, town-planners, architects and UN bodies to develop strategies to alleviate the (developing) world's sanitation problems.

What problems, you ask?

The summit organisers state that "2.6 billion people, more than 40% of the world population, do not use a toilet, but defecate in the open or in unsanitary places. The Millennium Development Goal-7, Target-10 has been set up, to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation which is still a colossal task before the world community".