Inclusive Urban Design: Public Toilets

By Khosla, Prabha | Women & Environments International Magazine, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Inclusive Urban Design: Public Toilets


Khosla, Prabha, Women & Environments International Magazine


INCLUSIVE URBAN DESIGN: PUBLIC TOILETS

Clara Greed

Architectural Press, Oxford, UK, 2003. pp361 Price: 34.99 English Pounds

Reviewed by Prabha Khosla

The time for "potty parity" between men and women is long overdue. Or, as we would say in Canada, equitable and inclusive access to public toilets, if we had any. We have to go to malls, and fast food outlets and generally out of our way to find a toilet. Greed's new book on public toilets is an important contribution to urban planning and design for breaking the silence around bodily functions such as defecation and menstruation and public spaces and services. While we all need to "go", no matter if we are women, men, differently abled, young or old, or of diverse cultures and different hygiene traditions - how easily we can "go" when we are out and about in our daily lives. This basic issue is rarely a topic of planning concern or public discussion in terms of municipal services provision.

Public Toilets is not a technical "how-to" book on toilets, but rather a well argued case for the recognition and provision of public toilets as a planning and urban design necessity. The book presents a compelling gender analysis of public toilets provision - or rather, the lack of them. (In Britain, on average, there are twice as many toilets for men compared to women.) Greed argues for their necessity in the creation of sustainable cities. She also devotes a chapter to the needs of people with disabilities and those in ill health. Greed points out that if indeed we are arguing for pedestrian and bicycle-friendly, mixed-use, public transit driven cities, then public toilets are a critical component of making this a reality. And in the era of the 24-hour city, the need is greater. Additionally, she underscores what at least women know - that due to the biological differences and social roles of women we need public toilets. While men can and do pee almost anywhere in public - lanes, fences, flower beds, against walls, public parks, etc. - women do not have that social sanction. Greed argues that women as mothers, care givers, part-time and shift workers, and as the majority of the people on foot and in public transit, need public toilets. Because planning and engineering professions have been male dominated, yet again, women's different realities in cities are not recognized.

The book is primarily about Britain, which has a history of public toilet provision while most North American towns and cities do not. However, the need to integrate public toilets into strategic urban policy and planning would benefit residents of both First and Third World urban centres. The benefits are many:

* economic gains - from tourism for businesses and shoppers;

* social benefits - in terms of healthier bodies, hygiene, and essential services for the needs of all citizens; and

* environmental - in terms of a cleaner city that facilitates organized disposal of human wastes and does not stink. …

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