Bathrooms boost morale. They are considered sacred spaces: private sanctuaries for men and women alike; adventure grounds for children; and, admittedly, hot spots for cigarette-smoking high school students. Regardless of the bathroom’s use (or misuse), it has provided a sense of spatial security and individual privilege when needed most. This is essentially why the United Nations General Assembly has declared 2008 the International Year of Sanitation . By calling attention to the estimated “41 percent of the global population [that does] not have access to latrines or any sort of basic sanitation facilities,” the UNGA hopes to improve these conditions, and, consequently, improve everything from school attendance to economic stability.
The Philadelphia City Toilet -photo courtesy of Urbanlight.org
This international spotlight coincides neatly with the anticipation of a street furniture initiative to be passed in Philadelphia under the Michael Nutter administration this year. Should it be approved by city council, the highest bidder (the competition currently being between Wall USA, Clear Channel and CBS) will win a contract to design and install, among other things, bus stop shelters, benches, trashcans and much-needed city toilets. As a reward for taking on the task, the company will be able to use the street furniture as advertising space.
After the installation is complete, the next logical step would be to provide city-goers with some sort of toilet tracking device. For example, Australia’s Department of Health and Aging has created the online National Public Toilet Map, and Londoners can utilize a texting service that relays the whereabouts of the nearest public powder room.
Although there won’t be nearly as many public toilets installed in Philly as residents and tourists would hope, most would agree that —especially in light of the aforementioned information imparted by the UNGA—something is better than nothing. Still, bathrooms have that magic ability to make or break a person’s day … whether they are simply clean and quiet or have thermochromatic toilet seats. And if they are anything like the self-cleaning city toilet that was, until recently, outside of City Hall, then bathroom-goers are in for one wild ride.