Public toilets, technology and accessibility

Public toilets, technology and accessibility

My list

This is a guest post by Lucía Bellocchio, founder and executive director of Trend Smart Cities. Lucía has extensive experience working on urban innovation, and has written in leading media outlets in South America like La Nación, El Observador, Clarín or TN.

When spring arrives, people flock to outdoor spaces seeking some time in the sun, walk in pleasant temperatures and contact with nature.

However, when organizing a meeting in a square, a recreational day on the riverfront or a walk through a park, a limitation appears that will determine the duration of any of these activities: the need to use a bathroom. That is when the solutions are left to the creativity and resources of each person, since while some are willing to pay for a drink in a place to access its services, others do not have the money to do so or it is out of their reach due to access possibilities or distances, among other factors.

Although it may often seem like an anecdotal or secondary topic – and we can surely remember more than one time in which we have found ourselves in that situation – thinking about public bathrooms is a key axis in urban design. If the premise is to create sustainable, inclusive environments for all the people who inhabit them, where they have public spaces for socialization, then it is essential to evaluate the complete experience that citizens have when using them.

A common problem in several cities. The lack of bathrooms in public spaces is a problem in different countries around the world and affects the population unequally. A public policy that addresses this issue must take into account that it is not enough to make basic infrastructure available, but rather that various essential issues must be considered.

The first of them is to guarantee that these spaces are accessible and safe since if they do not meet these conditions the public will avoid using them and this will mean that the investment made will not translate into a benefit for the population, the infrastructure will fall into disuse and it will probably deteriorate due to lack of maintenance.

Any bathroom for common use must be accessible and safe, not only to make basic infrastructure available but to be able to cater to the diverse public that is part of every city. This means that public toilets must not represent a barrier for people with reduced mobility or physical disability. They must also be safe, private, and illuminated to prevent attacks or safety threats to women, trans people, and others. Moreover, public toilets must be prepared for the needs of menstruating people and those who need to change babies. They should also guarantee access to sanitation for people who live homeless or do not have soap and water in their homes.

Public toilets and technology: What could be the link? Technology can help optimize the operation and use of public toilets. For instance, some cities use sensors to activate cleaning and disinfection procedures in the spaces. Besides, some toilets are washed and drained every time someone leaves the cabin. Once the initial investment has been made, integrated systems and technologies can ensure that bathrooms are always in usable condition without the need for expensive or inefficient maintenance.

Some cities also have smartphone applications that indicate the location of the nearest public bathrooms, their accessibility characteristics, and closing hours. Examples of such apps include Toilets UK, Flush Toilet Finder, The Toilet Map, and even the popular Google Maps application shows which are the closest public toilets based on the location of the device and the rating that people make of the service.

In conclusion, the planning and implementation of public bathrooms must provide a comprehensive and sustainable solution designed to improve the life experience of the population. The power of technology in urban planning should not omit the most essential issues, such as access to a bathroom, which makes it possible to spend more time in public spaces and thus enjoy the city.

Images | Sung Jin Cho, Gunnar Ridderström

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