Flushed away: the decline in public toilets
How to ensure public toilet provisions don't go down the drain
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Public toilets were already in jeopardy around the globe before Covid-19 shut down even more amenities. Now, in the aftermath, as funding and resources seem scarcer, communities are turning to local governments for help.
For some people — such as the elderly, disabled, homeless, women and IBS sufferers — public toilets aren’t a convenience but rather a necessity. These facilities support social equity and allow people to travel further in their local area, which ripples into public health, regional economies and high street foot traffic. Yet, the availability of public toilets is rarely protected by legislation. There’s a huge disparity between what’s available and who pays for it.
As ever, though, this flexibility has led to significant innovation within governments and their communities when maintaining such a critical yet overlooked part of social infrastructure. Whether that takes the form of community toilet schemes in Germany or works of toilet art throughout Tokyo, there’s so much to consider when designing your own public sanitation strategy.
In Brief: featured content
Saving public toilets — a rural community experience
By Freya Millard, LGIU
The Scottish village of Kinlochewe is a lynchpin in the Northwest Highlands, often a place where people stop off en-route to Inverness. Therefore, public toilets are essential in this area. In late 2018, however, the local council announced they’d be closing the service for good.
Mary Peart, a former teacher, organised a response. Over the next few months, she managed to collaborate with Kinlochewe’s Community Ownership Support Service and took over ownership of the facilities from local authorities. A self-described “toilet bore,” Mary now manages the public toilet services in the village to help her community and has big aspirations fo the future. Read about her experiences in our Q&A with LGIU’s Freya Millard.
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LGIU Global Local Highlights
🔒 Practical public toilet policy
Inventive solutions are required to meet public toilet concerns in a feasible way. What problems are local councils facing, and what’s at risk if they don’t act? Explore our in-depth examples from local governments across the western world that are getting creative and adopting best practices. Subscribe to Global Local to read this briefing.
🔒 Public toilet planning — an inconvenient imperative?
Despite its decline in many major cities, effective public toilet provision and design can help local governments meet a range of objectives. We explore these issues and argue for the development of local strategies. Subscribe to Global Local to read this briefing.
Innovation & Inspiration
Curated case studies and news from around the globe
Japan: Architects and designers enlisted to create unique toilet facilities
The Tokyo Toilet project, a collaboration between the Shibuya City Government and the Nippon Foundation, was launched in 2020 to change national perceptions of public restrooms. 16 well-regarded architects, artists and designers created 17 unique public toilets with a range of cutting-edge and avant-garde features. These include a facility with colourful, see-through walls that turn opaque when in use while still allowing light to enter. But these restrooms aren’t solely for creating short-term buzz, with Nippon stating that pristine maintenance is central to the project. Specially trained Tokyo toilet staff are employed to look after the facilities, with maintenance status posted online.
The Tokyo Toilet Project
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Policy & Resources
This toilet finder app offers a quick and easy way to help citizens around the world not only find public bathrooms but also discover which toilets offer access for disabled people, request payment or require a key. It’s a free app that can work without an internet connection and provides directions, too. With over 200,000 public toilets in the database, this type of global connectivity and information sharing certainly feels like a move in the right direction.
Podcast: Let’s Talk About Toilets
This episode from the Council on Foreign Relations really highlights the importance of providing access to toilets in a true global context. With a range of fantastic and insightful guest speakers including representatives from UNICEF, WHO and the Institute for Compassionate Economics, it examines the cultural and economic barriers to this essential human need.
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