… Crime

November 29, 2010 at 4:06 pm 2 comments

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!

There are certainly some criminal activities that would be less appealling in a cold facility, but on a freezing day like today I’d be pretty angry just going to the toilet in an unheated facility, and would pity anyone changing or feeding a baby, or who needed to spend a few minutes longer in the cubicle.

Everything has a trade off, so if a park facility has a problem with anti-social behaviour then they could argue that this is the price to pay. But what if they don’t? What if providers design new public toilets without heat because of problems that they may have in the future? And what problems exactly would they be?

We can’t treat all crime equally, nor treat all public toilets as equally susceptible. It’s early days for the project but to get started I’ve broken down the different ‘crimes’ into 3 catagories:

(incidentally, in some cases this is perhaps a rather liberal use of the word ‘crime’. ‘Anti-social behaviour’ would be better, or ‘Things that other people would rather you didn’t do’)

Crime committed against the public toilet

  • Vandalism
  • Graffiti

Crime committed in the public toilet

  • Sex
  • Drugs
  • Shoplifting
  • Personal Theft
  • Assault
  • Rough Sleeping

Crime committed due to no public toilet

  • Public Urination

I’m sure there’ll be updates. Watch this space.

And now for a loosely connected Open Data story.

On Friday I decided to do an updated yet unsophisticated search for local public toilet open data. This involves going through the list of Councils with Open Data on the UK Councils Open Data Scoreboard at OpenlyLocal.com since they’re the most likely candidates to have a dataset for public toilets. If they don’t (and this bit’s important!) I check to see if they have public toilets. Then I email to ask if they could consider adding the dataset, or if there’s a reason why they’re unable to. It’s fishing for information, more than anything. I don’t expect them to suddenly add toilet data and in any case it’s a tiny number of councils. I’m certainly not emailing all 300-400 odd, because:

  1. I don’t live there
  2. It’s not a good use of time
  3. I’m no longer sure that I know what I’m talking about –

– because the list of open toilet data found here links to pages containing tables, not just datasets, so perhaps a file isn’t necessary? Is it OK if it’s just in a table? Is this something to do with .asp?


No idea.


What I did find to my eternal frustration is lots of datasets for the location of libraries. Now forgive me for picking on a dataset that I’m sure some designer somewhere holds dear, but if the council have the imagination to see why people would want to create library maps, then surely that logic runs even more true with public toilet maps? There’s a lot more urgency involved than when borrowing a book.

So I did what I normally do: whine about it when I got home. And got the response from my boyfriend that:

“They probably don’t want to advertise where the toilets are.”

Hmm. This has fear of crime written all over it.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “What does he know?”, and normally I’d agree, if I hadn’t heard from a toilet campaigner that, when she asked a council why they didn’t signpost their toilets better, they replied that it would ‘attract vandalism’.

Which, with some despair, leads to my conclusion.

People are less likely to commit crime in public toilets that are well-used. If you inform, encourage and provide for the people who do wish to use the toilets, then we’ll have a lot less crime to design out.


Entry filed under: Open Data, Urban Design. Tags: , , , , , .

… Council Websites … Money, Cost & Value

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Stuart Harrison  |  November 30, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Interesting stuff, and it’s spurred me into action. Amazingly, we have info on public toilets (Google maps and all), but no open data! I’m on paternity leave at the mo, but in the few stolen moments when the little man was asleep, I knocked this up:



    • 2. gailknight  |  November 30, 2010 at 12:24 pm

      Thanks! I always liked Lichfield.


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