Even before people step into shops or restaurants, cities offer incredible opportunities to relax and be engaged. Cycling through the streets, playing in public parks, or people watching on a grand boulevard—these are the pure joys of urban living.
Delighting in the thrills of urban life is getting harder. Finding a public toilet has become a problem because there are fewer and fewer public toilets in city centres.
Cities and municipalities are faced with enormous costs if they offer city visitors and residents an appropriate solution to this need. So where to go when you need to go?
The public toilets problem
There are often few to no public toilets in city centres. But why is that? New toilets can mean upfront costs for municipalities. On top of the initial investment, care, maintenance, cleaning, etc. are enormously expensive. Even if well-maintained, public toilets may not be used as much as they could be because they have a reputation for being dirty or poorly stocked.
In many jurisdictions, cities are not legally required to offer public washrooms. It is viewed not as a “compulsory task” but merely as a “voluntary service”.
Even when public toilets are available, there are often complaints or concerns about unhygienic conditions, fear of contracting infectious diseases, or low-quality toilet paper.
50% of England’s public toilets closed
In England, more than half of all public toilets have been closed in the past 11 years. This problem started with cost-cutting measures on the part of city councils. As in Germany, municipalities are not obliged to provide public washrooms. This has become an issue not just for people coming into city centres to shop, but interferes with the basic needs of the unhoused, the disabled, people who work outside, pregnant women, mothers of infants, the elderly, or people who have a medical condition that causes them to urinate more frequently.
A truly global issue
This has become a global issue. On the other side of the Atlantic, it is becoming an election issue in municipalities. Toronto is in the middle of a municipal election and the issue of closed or poorly maintained park washrooms has become a hot topic.
In an article this year, The Los Angeles Times outlined how this issue has cropped up in cities like Seattle, San Diego, Chicago, Mumbai, and Paris.
An alternative option?
Whether visiting the Christmas market or strolling through town, people usually prefer to ask for a toilet in the restaurant than to use mobile toilet stations or even public toilets. But do restaurateurs have to provide a toilet for everyone? No, because restaurants and cafés have their own rights and choose to provide a toilet or not. Or they take a small fee for the use of the toilets so that costs for cleaning, maintenance, and so on are collected.
The “Nice Toilet”
One solution, coming from Germany, is the “Nice Toilet” campaign. Here, municipalities support restaurateurs financially to help them maintain their washrooms. This helps the restaurants with a guaranteed cashflow. It also helps cities save costs because they do not have to build their own washrooms. If a restaurant signs up to make their toilet available to all visitors, they place a special sticker in their window or front door. In addition, an app provides information about all the establishments participating in the “Nice Toilet” campaign.
This has been seen as a great win-win. For restaurateurs, they have another way of attracting new customers. For visitors, they can now find a comprehensive network of freely accessible toilets that are clean, well-maintained, and an are available late at night.