Brace yourself. You are about to read something not often discussed in polite society. The human body has some routine functions including menstruation, urination, and defecation, which are not magically optional when outside the privacy and comfort of one’s own home. The lack of public accommodation for these activities in most cities and towns world-wide, Sidney included, is perhaps due in part to the fact that no one likes to think about or discuss what people do in the privacy of a bathroom, but also because there are costs and politics associated with building and maintaining public facilities.
The Sidney BIA does a tremendous job of organizing events that attract thousands of people to downtown Sidney. The same can be said of the popular Sidney Street Market. As the crowds have grown, so have the numbers of complaints about the dearth of washroom facilities. The tourists visiting our Information Centre on the highway years ago, educated the Chamber on our responsibility in this regard and public washrooms were built.
The burden should not be on the coffee shops to make their facilities available free of charge and yet, by default, these businesses shoulder most of the cost and responsibility. Who amongst us hasn’t been in the uncomfortable situation of pretending to be a customer or paid for some beverage we didn’t want simply to entitle us to use a washroom? Taxpayers benefit from the public goods their taxes fund, including parks, roads, garbage cans, flowers, sidewalks, signage and so much more. Washroom facilities should be considered a similar public good because it’s good policy and because access to toilets is an economic development driver. Toilet tourism is an actual thing.
Solutions don’t have to be expensive or complicated. Nineteen years ago in Germany, a system called Nette Toilette (Nice Toilet) was pioneered, whereby businesses are paid by the municipality to make their washroom facilities available to the public. Participating businesses have a sticker in their window identifying themselves as a Nice Toilet. It’s a popular program with many obvious advantages including making significantly more washrooms available at minimal cost to taxpayers.
If we are serious about creating a vibrant, walkable community that encourages residents and tourists to spend more time downtown, we need to consider a public washroom strategy that prioritizes the provision of appropriate facilities. Currently, we fall far short of the mark. There is a toilet joke in there somewhere.