… Analysing London

December 20, 2011 at 4:05 pm Leave a comment

Using information from council websites, I made some maps to show the varying numbers and types of toilet across London, from public toilets and community toilet schemes to other publicly accessible toilets (in Stations etc..). That was yesterday’s blog post.

It revealed as much about the levels of information on council websites as much as it did about the number of toilets. With that in mind, I’m going to milk the data a little more, to see what else it can reveal.

Population

I downloaded a pretty cool dataset called ‘London Borough Profiles’ from the GLA’s London Datastore (though I only ended up using the population data)

Firstly, here’s a map of population by borough.

(Link to actual map)

I’m quite surprised. I knew Wandsworth (where I live) has 300 000 residents, but I didn’t know that this was nearly twice as many as neighbouring Hammersmith & Fulham.

Clearly Wandsworth should have more toilets than Hammersmith & Fulham..

..but how many toilets is enough? 

Map of Number of Residents per Public Toilet

(Same Link to actual map as before – once in Geocommons you have to check boxes on the right to display different maps)

Hmm. Bit patchy.

The Audit Commission stopped counting public toilets in the UK in 2000. I used their data from 2000 last year to make the statement ‘[In the UK] 1 public toilet serves over 13 000 members of the public’  (UK Population / Number of toilets).

If we use that dodgy statistic as a baseline average, any borough on the map that is blue (20 000+ residents/toilet) or dark blue (40 000+ residents/toilet) needs to find itself some more loos.

‘Blue’ Councils: Harrow, Haringey, Redbridge, Havering, Newham, Croydon, Hammersmith & Fulham. 

‘Dark Blue’ Councils: Islington.

However that’s only half the story. Firstly, people don’t need public toilets when they’re at home, so residents/toilet is slightly flawed, particularly in London where council areas are small and people spend a lot of the day in a different borough altogether.

The City of London is an extreme example – one public toilet for every 139 residents! Is that even enough? No one lives in the City of London, but bucket-loads visit each day.

A better measure is footfall. Provide a public toilet that suits the number of people in the vicinity that need it. This applies to town centres, parks, transport hubs – all should have a public toilet (partly because people expect to find a public toilet there), but footfall can decide how big it should be. British Standard 6465 has calculations to help authorities determine this.

Community Toilet Schemes

Yesterday I complained that Community Toilet Schemes are being used to replace public toilets rather than as a supplement to provision.

An extreme case is Richmond, who have 97 community toilets, but no public toilets (although they used to). I have some sympathy. The public toilets that they (and Wandsworth) closed were either underused or misused.

However to rely entirely on Community Toilets is to put a lot of pressure and responsibility into the hands of local business, with less control over accessibility, and no back up plan if businesses find visitor numbers excessive or can’t deal with groups.

Anyways, back to the data.

I first counted the number of public toilets in London based on council websites in Spring 2011. This means I have 2 sets of data, with over 6 months in-between.

This table shows the change in numbers of public toilets (including those in parks when listed), and the change in publicly-accessible toilets (including community toilets).

+/- Number of Toilets in London between Spring and December 2011* (based on council websites)

*Disclaimer: Table doesn’t show 13 councils where no change was noted. Don’t read too much into a +1 or -1 count either. I may have miscounted. I miscount a lot.

Remarks:

  • The first column has more red. Conclusion: Public Toilets are closing.
  • The second column has more green. Conclusion: Community Toilet Schemes are growing. 
  • Barking & Dagenham have ‘lost’ 22 toilets because they seem to have deleted their public toilet webpage.
  • Kensington & Chelsea‘s website have gained 10 public toilets. This is partly because they didn’t used to list the 8 public toilets in parks.
  • Bromley and Lambeth have both opened community toilets whilst closing public toilets. 
also,
  • Wandsworth and City of London have expanded their Community Toilet Scheme a lot this year.
  • Not sure what’s going on in Kingston.

An Inconclusive Conclusion

The data from council webpages tells stories, but some of those stories are about the data itself (‘webpage deleted’) rather than the subject of the data (‘public toilet closed’).

Sometimes the data hides the story.

Michelle commented on my blog post yesterday with the following:

You cannot believe all you read on websites – the last time I looked at Croydon’s website for toilets, they listed some that had been closed for years.

Also, data is sometimes too vague to be useful – Lloyd Park in Croydon is shown as having public toilets, but this park covers dozens of acres, and there is no clue as to where these toilets may be. I have visited for 12 years,and have never found them!

What use is a public toilet webpage if it lists toilets that have been closed for years? 

Is the ‘open data’ that I’d rather the councils produced any more accurate than website info?

8 of the 33 boroughs in London provide open data about their public toilets. This data is displayed in The Great British Public Toilet Map (London).

Table showing Council Website Data vs Open Data

Ugh.

Remarks:

  • Not one of these councils shows the same number of toilets in both columns. That’s not good.
  • Camden include some station toilets (that they don’t manage) on their webpage, but not in their open data. That’s par for the course.
  • Hackney have redeemed themselves! (no webpage).
  • Hillingdon‘s open data only covers the libraries (and one Superloo in a library car park).
  • Lambeth and Sutton‘s open data is only for their Community Toilet Scheme.

Camden, Wandsworth and Lambeth (I think) produce open data by pulling it directly from an existing council database or file, so should be up-to-date, (so long as someone occasionally hits ‘refresh’). I doubt any of the websites pull data in that way – all look ‘hand-written’.

Otherwise, there’s no real way of knowing which is more up-to-date, or more *right*.

So What Next?

The point of this exercise was purely to map something using ‘Geocommons’ which I first saw at an Open Data Masterclass a year ago.  It took a day to make my first map (well.. a year and a day), but now that I have, I’m tempted to get more reliable data.

That would require asking councils via a Freedom of Information request for ‘number and type of public toilets ‘ ‘council expenditure of public toilets’ etc.

I might.

To be honest, I wasn’t trying to campaign or make a point, I was just playing with maps.

One thing that I think I’ve shown is that using borough-level stats to determine a decent public toilet provision quickly becomes meaningless.

Public toilet numbers, types and locations are better determined locally, by local people and visitors, as a service designed in a people-centred way, not determined centrally or arbitrarily from above.

Although.. comparing councils is kinda fun.

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Entry filed under: Service Design. Tags: , , .

… Council Websites (London) … the High Street

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