Archive for November, 2010
I’ve just gone through our 100 user interviews about public toilets from the research stage of TACT3 and found 59 references relating to Crime or Fear of Crime, from 29 different people.
This was not just for kicks, but because we have a new 6 month research project looking at Public Toilets and Crime.
It’ll come as no surprise that people associate one with the other, and for good reason. There’s plenty of evidence of crime being committed in public toilets and therefore every need to research the reasons why and consequently Design out Crime.
And as well as a fear of crime, I have a fear of design. A fear that some design interventions that aim to design out crime may disadvantage the general public. One example that I’ve heard a few times is that providers avoid heating public toilets in order to discourage people from ‘hanging around’. Brrr!
Public Toilets are run by the council. So if you want to know where they are you’ll find the information on the council website.
I’m not suggesting that this is a particularly convenient way to find out where the toilet is if you need the toilet, but you might be planning ahead or particularly concerned about finding facilities (which you would be if you have problems with incontinence, or if you’re caring for someone else, or responsible for a group trip, to give some examples).
And with more councils starting and promoting their community toilet schemes, the information for residents and visitors on which businesses are participating is also to be found online. (Some also make printed maps. I love them.)
A few months ago I was on a committee looking at ways to design out crime in public toilets. One thing that we decided to do was to each look at the council websites of Hertfordshire and report back.
It wasn’t a particularly scientific experiment but just the act of being forced to look at and compare 10 different neighbouring councils’ websites threw up more examples of some basic problems regarding public toilet provision. And council websites.
Everyone knows you can’t change a man, but if you’re trying to win arguments then the ones you have with your partner are the easiest. There are only two views to consider and everyone has their say.
Anything larger, like a group of friends deciding where to go, and yours becomes one voice amongst many. Your powers have diminished! Better form some alliances if you want to have final say.
As the size of the group grows, the ability to consult everyone goes down. Levels of government are introduced so that a few can represent the whole. Schools have PTAs, Housing developments have a Resident’s Association. Everyone knows who those representatives are and how to contact them, so wider consultation is possible.
An official response from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) on public toilets!
This is the new government’s position, in response to my long (and in hindsight, slightly insane) email to my local MP, which, being 5 pages, none of you are going to read, so I’ll just say that the recommendations that the response refers to as ‘Ms Knight’s proposals’ were actually the recommendations of the 2008 DCLG Select Committee that I just happen to agree with.
I thought maybe, just maybe, the new government would reconsider the previous rejection of the Select Committee recommendations (actually I didn’t, but figured that I shouldn’t leave any stone unturned).
The planned Localism Bill will “devolve greater powers to councils and neighbourhoods and give local communities control over housing and planning decisions,” which must mean that local people will be asked (or will offer) to get more involved.
Meanwhile the British Toilet Association are encouraging locals to fight for better public toilets through their ‘Where Can I Go?’ campaign; a ‘bottom up’ approach – getting locals to demand things from their local government. They’ve already tried the alternative top down version when they spoke as witnesses at the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) 2008 Select Committee into public toilets. But despite the committee’s recommendations, the DCLG refused to impose any statutory duty or national demands relating to public toilets: a new approach was needed.
So local governments make the decisions on public toilets and local people should get involved.
But how do local governments make decisions? and how do we get involved?
Planning seems like a big issue here. Local authority toilets must be designed into town regeneration or urban planning processes.
Here’s an idea that’s so obvious I think ‘idea’ might be stretching it.
The cubicle on the left is ‘normal’. The cubicle on the right has the toilet off-centre, positioned between the wall and sanitary bin.
I’ve never understood why the ladies’ toilets aren’t like this.
The best case result is a sanitary bin on one side, resulting in disgruntled women having to brush up against it. (The worst case is when it doesn’t even fit in the gap, so it’s behind the door and you can’t get in, McDonalds Clapham Junction, hmm?)
Now there’s always going to be a sanitary bin in every ladies cubicle, so why not design with that in mind?
Sometimes people have – these are the toilets where it’s built into the wall, creating far more space in the cubicle and a toilet utopia. Others may have the foresight to source the bins before building the walls or partitions to make sure they fit.
But even if they do fit, wouldn’t it still be better to reposition the toilet so that it’s central within the space that’s left?
(Incidentally this rule can be applied to huge toilet roll holders too)
Or am I missing something here?
Vote below! And don’t even think about voting no without telling me why in the comments!
On Tuesday night I went to People’s Question Time, a twice yearly free event for about 1000 Londoners to pose questions to the Mayor and the London Assembly.
It wasn’t my idea – it was my friend Laura, but once I’d agreed I knew in the back of my mind that I’d have to ask about public toilets *sigh*
It might seem strange but I don’t always like talking about public toilets (actually it would be stranger if I did). Their image is dirty and seedy, and they’re associated with poo. Sometimes this gets to you. However I do love thinking about design and the urban environment and safety and social equality and gender equality and fairness, and all of these things are found in spades with regard to public toilets, which is why I love my job. Plus they’re So essential yet so full of flaws that for a designer it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.
But I digress. Laura booked a holiday to Marrakech instead so I went off the whole idea, but due to the enthusiasm of the lovely ladies from the Women’s Design Service that I’d met with on Wednesday (their amazing 1990 publication At Women’s Convenience is available here) I recruited my brother instead and we went to the Camden Centre determined to get my question in!
People’s Question Time is divided into 5 sections – Police, Transport, Environment, London 2012 and Other. I waited for Other, stuck my hand up, and 5 questions and a dead arm later got picked. I was handed the mic just as my brain exploded, but luckily my mouth was on autopilot.
Here’s how it went:
Me: Hello. My name’s Gail and I’d like to ask about public toilet provision. A few years ago the GLA looked into the provision of public toilets in London and found out about the shortcomings, however the initiatives such as Open London that were put in place have all but fizzled out, so I’d like to know what more the Assembly can and will do.
Chair: Joanne McCartney led a very successful piece of work on public toilets, and has become something of an expert on the subject… spoken all over the country… Joanne, where’s the work of your Committee going on that subject?