Archive for September, 2010
Open Data on public toilets is slim pickings. The government data website has just one result for public toilets, which comes from Brent (a .kml file), although you only get this if you search for ‘toilets’, not ‘toilet’, grr!
I also found a dataset for disabled toilets in Sutton through their own website. This .csv file lists twice as many toilets than their webpage on public loos does, so that’s some proof that datasets are easier to keep up to date. Although why only publish the disabled ones?
If there are other councils quietly releasing this info then please let me know. I asked my local councillor who got me data for my borough of Wandsworth (and he published it on the internet so it’s now ‘open’ too) with an impressive 56 toilets on it. I wanted to compare this to existing toilet finders, so I created a Google map.
[UPDATE: Hmm I’ve since updated this map for Public Toilets and … Wandsworth Part II, so it now shows far more toilets than it did originally. The council provision just covers the yellow (Superloo) and blue (community toilet scheme) markers.]
Amongst the delights of the London Design Festival lies a small exhibition called The Lives of Others by the Helen Hamlyn Centre at the Royal College of Art. Here you will find user-centred research into the design of libraries, patient safety, care homes and… public toilets.
My project Out of Order shows the first year of work where I interviewed 80+ members of the public of all ages about needing, finding and using public toilets, and then spoke with nearly 20 local authorities, architects, private providers and the police. The exhibition shows the research process and allows you to have your say by writing answers to toilet-related questions on the loo rolls – and no potty mouth, I have to read these later!
The Lives of Others is open until Thursday 7th October at the Royal College of Art (free admission)
This summer I’ve learnt that there are 3 ways to find out where the UK’s public toilets are.
…The internet, the country, other websites… the oldest existing online toilet finders seem to be run by individuals who work very hard to add facilities town by town, with help from other volunteers. These are impressive but I can’t help feeling that they’re fighting a losing battle. If we just focus on local authority loos and guesstimate that if there are, say, 300 councils and each has 10 loos (yes I’m making this up) then you’ve got one person monitoring 3000 facilities through 300 providers spread across the country. It’s impossible. And that’s before you consider Community Toilet Schemes, where a county or borough might sign up another 100 loos, like in Richmond.
2 – Crowd Source
So a few volunteers is crazy, but what about a few thousand? iphone and online apps like WaterAid’s Toiletfinder and SitorSquat ask the public to add toilets to their map as they find them. This works in theory, as it does with Wikipedia, particularly if one site becomes the front runner and everyone focuses on that. But the content is still very hit or miss and almost all are ‘semi-private’ facilities, like those in cafes, pubs and shops who may or may not mind you sneaking in to use the loo. For example where I live ‘Sit or Squat’ shows 6 toilets, only 2 of which are run by the local authority. Yet the local authority provides 56!
3 – Open Data
If the local authorities released data on where their public toilets are then they’d be responsible for keeping it up to date, the developers could add this data to their maps automatically, and I’d have 60 loos to choose from! If If If…
…is to create a website to encourage / support / report local authorities in releasing data on their toilets. Clearly it’s work in progress. I haven’t even got that sentence to work yet.
So before I do this I will need to:
ask local authorities if they’d be interested in it.
ask data experts if there’s any need for it.
ask developers if they’d want to use it.
so, you know, not much…
One huge problem with public toilets, as I see it, is being able to find them. So what’s the solution? Well the most obvious would be an online toilet map, and a quick google reveals one! In Australia…
This cannot be done in the UK as there’s no government data about where public toilets are. This is because public toilets are the responsibility of local government, and the (previous) central government thinks that “it would be an excessive reporting requirement for local authorities” to ask them to provide this information. It seems they think that everyone is happy not to know where the toilets are.