of public toilets: old ghosts and profligate chimeras

like almost every other public convenience in this city, the two facilities inside the 23rd Street/8th Avenue subway station, one of which is marked by this old whited-out tile sign, has been closed for decades

Now once again [see this 2004 news article, and note that it was certainly not the first] we're being told that help really is on the way.

The city fathers and mothers (who must never have had to pee, once they were out and about, since some time after World War II) have been talking for years about setting up a few above-ground single-user toilet units around the city for the rest of us. Now we are being told that eventually twenty big automated toilet boxes will be spread over the five boroughs.

There are real problems with this solution which are obvious even now: They call it street furniture, but they won't be occupying space reserved for cars but will instead be another encroachment on the space left for the increasingly-marginalized pedestrian; it looks like we'll still have a very long walk between water closets, and a potential wait in line once one of these things is located, particularly if it's in a high-traffic neighborhood, as I assume they all of them will be; commercial advertising (plus a quarter from each visitor) is supposed to pay for them, meaning that they will also be adding to to the visual pollution of New York's runaway public billboard epidemic; the toilets will be open (surprise!) only from 8 am to 8 pm; and, oh yeah, they will each use 14 gallons of our precious water reserve to clean the inside of the unit every time it's flushed (hey, do you think we're going to be allowed inside to pee during our not-infrequent summer droughts?); finally, how often will they be out of order?

Before replacing it with something else the authorities peremptorily abandoned a system which worked, however problematically. We've had half a century to think about what to replace it with, and sadly this is the best they could come up with. I know this is America, but can't we try thinking minimal once in a while?

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Published on January 14, 2008 4:23 PM.

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