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Are public toilets a right in public spaces? (Survey)

24 May

Don's Johns

© Joe Raedle / Getty Images/ A different Don’s Johns

The Washington Post has an interesting article about how the election of President Trump has made one industry flush: the people who supply portable toilets. It turns out that the increasing number of protests has lead to increasing demand for people who want to dump more than just Trump. According to Perry Stein in an article cleverly titled Washington’s portable toilet industry is flush, thanks to Trump:

The National Park Service, which oversees the Mall, requires demonstration permit holders to provide one portable toilet for every 300 participants, 20 percent of which must be wheelchair-accessible, said Mike Litterst, a spokesman for the agency.

The owner of Don’s Johns, who had to cover his company name during the inauguration, tells WaPo:

“All I’m going to say is that we love the activism. I’ll leave it at that,” Weghorst said. “It’s been good. It’s made for an interesting and lucrative spring.”

But it is really expensive, one of the biggest costs that organizers of protests face.

For first-time protest organizers, the cost of portable toilets can be unexpected and staggering. Jordan Uhl, a District resident planning the March for Truth on June 3 near the White House, said portable toilets will be the biggest cost of the protest — an expense of nearly $5,000 he wasn’t expecting to incur.

Given that the Mall where these protests take place is a public space, I would have thought that there would be public washrooms, especially in a tourist attraction like Washington. Most public squares and major parks have them. I would have thought that it was a right. But in comments to the Post, of course there is this one:

I can only imagine that in the near future the lefty loon protesters will declare that porta pottys are a “right ” and should be provided for free by us, the taxpayers and worker bees. Oh, yes.

But there are laws for private space that demand rest rooms in restaurants. There are gorgeous washrooms in Union Square in New York and in fact hundreds of washrooms all over New York. They are considered a public good.

Portapotties are also terrible for the environment, filled with a chemical soup that often contains formaldehyde, which cannot be separated out by sewage treatment systems.

natural event lineup© Natural event

There are green alternatives, like the Australian Natural Event, that was very popular at the Glastonbury Festival, but the real solution is to recognize that just as there is a right to assembly, there is also a need for safe, clean public washrooms that are a basic requirement where you have public space.

vienna public washroomLloyd Alter/ Vienna public washroom/CC BY 2.0

In Vienna parks they have these really fancy ones, where the toilets are in stainless steel booths that wash themselves down, that flush the entire room.

Vienna UrinalsLloyd Alter/ Vienna public washroom/CC BY 2.0

Some might complain about the privacy of the urinals, but there are advantages. And surely, if the First Amendment to the constitution protects the “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” they need a bathroom while they do it. What do you think?

(If you cannot see the poll below, click here to go to it)

Should public washrooms be a human right?
Yes, public spaces should have public washrooms.No, it is not in the constitution.Other (in comments)
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