Public bathrooms are an invitation to participate in urban life — a signal of welcome even more important than parks and benches and trash cans. Those pieces of urban infrastructure we can manage without. Public bathrooms? No one can stay long in any place without one. So how is it that we have such a hard time getting public bathrooms right?
Because there’s accessibility. And then there’s accessibility.
To be truly inclusive, we need to look hard at who in our cities has ample access, who’s merely making do, and who’s left squatting between parked cars (the most common place for human street feces, according to data from the San Francisco “poop map,” which tracks open defecation). We need to look at whose basic dignity is being upheld by public bathrooms and whose is being compromised.
Most of us think of accessibility in terms of wheelchairs — we picture bigger stalls, automated door openers, lowered sinks, and grab bars, the modifications we’ve lived with in public bathrooms for decades. But that’s not everyone’s version of accessibility.
Adequate public bathrooms for trans men and women, and for children and adults with opposite-gender caregivers, means having all-gender options. Access for homeless populations means never having to pay to get in. Accessibility for the elderly can mean …