Portland's Tips for Making Public Potties That Last

By Veronique Greenwood | January 24, 2012 1:03 pm

Breezy and exposed! That’s the secret to bathrooms no one, not even street people, wants to live in.

Many cities have had epic, expensive public toilet fails. Seattle, we’re looking at you and your $5 million self-cleaning toilets that wound up trashed.

But over at The Atlantic’s Cities site, John Metcalfe has a piece detailing why Portland’s public potties have survived the aggressions (and heavy use) of the citizens. Here are Portland’s tips for defecation success.

1. Make it open to the elements: we’re talking bathroom stall, sans the bathroom. People walking by on the sidewalk should be able to see the peer’s feet and hear every little splish, splash, and sploosh in that potty. A comfortable, enclosed public bathroom is a bum’s living room, but an open-air crapper is just an open-air crapper.

2. No sink. Bums like to wash clothes in sinks. Instead, provide a spigot outside the stall with cold water.

3. No mirror. People like to break mirrors. It’s just a thing.

4. No nice, homey touches or comfortable detailing. Stainless steel all the way, with a graffiti-repelling coating. People can and will take bats to it; don’t make it easy on them.

And yet, Portlanders seem to love these chilly steel crappers. “Whenever I have friends in the car and we pass by one, it’s like, ‘There’s the loo!'” an assistant to the city commissioner said to Metcalfe. “It’s cold and really strange inside, and there’s a sense of, ‘Wow, I’m really close to the sidewalk and people can hear me peeing,’ but it’s really cool.”

A ringing endorsement if ever there was one. Sign us New Yorkers up!

Image courtesy of Portland Loo

  • Orion Silvertree

    Ms. Greenwood, would you care to explain why you chose to refer to the homeless as “bums?”

    • Orion Silvertree

      Since twenty-four hours have passed, during which time a new article by Ms. Greenwood has appeared on Discoblog, I will assume an explanation is not forthcoming. Discoblog is therefore no longer on my reading list.

  • Jim

    I fail to see what’s wrong with homeless people washing clothes in the sink.  Who cares?  I’m sure there’s always going to be at LEAST one sink open to wash your hands.  And if you couldn’t use the sink due to all the homeless washing their clothes at coincidentally the same time then you are no worse off than you were without sinks to being with.  Unless of course you are saying that there’s a problem with having to be around homeless when you are out in public.  If that’s the case I think removing sinks is possibly the worst way to solve that problem, and it also comes off as a tad bit intolerant. 

    • Donutz

      I think the main “problem” with homeless folks washing their clothes in the sink is that they would occupy the bathroom for much longer than necessary, causing other folks not to be able to use the bathroom for extended periods of time.


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