Denver addressing common big-city problem: where are the public restrooms?

In big cities like Denver, public bathrooms can be hard to find:

Downtown Denver is a busy area and a great place to visit. But it lacks one thing everyone needs – bathrooms.

“There hasn’t been a big need for it in the past but we’re looking into it now because we’ve heard from the community that there is a big need for it,” said Heather Burke of Denver Public Works.

You’re options now are to use the facilities at the business you’re patronizing, or you could do your business at your local, not so friendly, neighborhood dumpster…

In 2014 Denver Police issued 550 misdemeanor citations for urinating in public…

“It’s definitely on the city’s radar; we have a working group that’s looking at different options for public restrooms,” said Burke.

Infrastructure may not get the attention it deserves overall but shouldn’t public bathrooms also be on the radar screen?

This reminds me of the chapter in Mitchell Duneier’s Sidewalks regarding how the street vendors he is studying are treated in regards to bathrooms. The short answer is not well as they are often homeless black men and local businesses are not always inclined to view them favorably. For example, the story cited above says the Hard Rock Cafe tries to be accommodating to visitors but how would they view people like street vendors as opposed to tourists or people who appear to be more middle or upper-class?

Should your office cubicle be smaller than your suburban home’s bathroom?

A short passage from Cubedhighlights the increasing size of suburban bathrooms compared to the size of cubicles:

To add insult to injury, [cubicles] shrank. According to a BusinessWeek editorial from 1996, between the mid-1980s and the mid-1990s the average size of a cubicle decreased between 25 and 50 percent. Ironically, the editorial was spurred by BusinessWeek‘s editorial staff being “informed that most of us will lose our private offices in a year or two. This prompted a closer look at cubicles,” they wrote, “which are occupied by some 35 million of the 45 million white-collar workers in this country.” BW forecast only half humorously that at those rates the average cubicle in 2097 would be eight square feet. By 2006, when the average cubicle was seventy-five square feet, half of Americans would report that they believed that their bathroom was larger than their cubicle; one wonders to what extend the extravagant growth of the American bathroom, and of the suburban home in general, is partly a reaction against the shrinking of cubicles, where the owners of those bathrooms spend so much of their time. (p.243)

Interesting contrast. American homes are indeed larger today and have more bathrooms than in the past. Cubicles are often meant to be practical, places for business and yet suburbanites tend to desire more opulent bathrooms. Watch HGTV for a while and lots of homebuyers want bathrooms that are more like spas, have the latest features like granite and rain showerheads, and have plenty of space. For all these niceties, how much time do people spend in bathrooms compared to cubicles? The numbers wouldn’t even be close for the average cubicle dweller. But, bathrooms, particularly connected to the master’s bedroom, are showpieces, status symbols , and catch buyers’ eyes and cubicles are definitely not those things.

Addressing the lack of big city toilets with an $8 a day NYC toilet membership

It is not easy to find a decent restroom in many big American cities and a new company in New York City wants to fill this hole in the market:

A New York company has started marketing what amounts to an upscale pay toilet service. Posh Stow and Go will offer visitors to the Big Apple “clean, safe and soundproof” bathrooms worthy of “the greatest city in the world,” in addition to such other amenities as “luxury showers” and private storage rooms.

Prices for the Midtown facility, which is set to open around June, start at $24 for a three-day pass (or $8 a day), plus a mandatory $15 annual membership fee. The company envisions opening other locations throughout the city—lower Manhattan is next on the list—but warns that “only a limited number of memberships will be sold so as to provide the best possible experience.”…

Parks may have a point: The lack of clean and comfortable public restrooms in major American metropolitan areas—especially New York—is an issue that’s been raised for years. The aptly named Phlush , a public restroom advocacy group based in Portland, Oregon, goes so far as to argue that “toilet availability is a human right” and “well-designed sanitation systems restore health to our cities.”

But the issue for cities remains twofold: Public restrooms are expensive to build and maintain and they are seen as a potential magnet for vagrants. For the latter reason alone, the city of Pensacola, Fla., recently approved an ordinance making it illegal for homeless individuals to wash or shave in public restrooms. (The ordinance was part of a larger push to address problems involving the homeless, though city leaders are now considering reversing the policies.).

I had never heard of Phlush but they make some good points: it is hard to be in a city if bathrooms are not available for all. Additionally, a city planning expert is cited later in the article suggesting that pay toilets go against the “democratic urban ideal.” This seems like one of the basic requirements of having a truly public space. Think of a space like Times Square that is consistently full of people: if most bathrooms are privatized, what is everyone supposed to do?

It would be really interesting to see the business plan of Posh Stow and Go. Just how many memberships can they sell before they reach a tipping point and the restrooms are not as luxurious and exclusive? Just how much money do they think is in private bathrooms? How much does it cost to retrofit existing retail space to fit this new use?

When your extra-large McMansion bathroom requires an extra-large vanity

Several architectural traits of McMansions tend to draw attention: two-story foyers, Palladian windows, multiple extra rooms for hobbies and crafts and whatever else, and gaudy front exteriors. Yet, the bathrooms don’t get as much attention. Here is a blog post that suggests McMansion bathrooms present special challenges:

72″ seems to be the largest standard size for bathroom vanities. But what do you do when that is just not big enough? You know who you are, if you can fit a 5 piece bedroom set into your master bathroom then you are probably living in a McMansion. And if that McMansion was built in the 80’s or 90’s it is probably time to renovate.

So how do you find bath vanities larger than 72″ with a classic, high end feel to complement you expansive space? Here are some of my top picks.

I haven’t personally searched for vanities of this size but, if shows on HGTV are any indication, there does seem to be an upsizing of the bathrooms, particularly for the master suite. I’ve been intrigued by this: why expand the size of the bathroom instead of using the square footage elsewhere? Of course, if your house is already large (say over 3,000 square feet), perhaps you wouldn’t really need square footage elsewhere…

Thinking more broadly, it would be interesting to examine the features of homes, such as furniture, decorations, and appliances, to see how much their size has grown with the expansion of American homes in the last five decades.