Posts tagged ‘Open London’
The Great British Public Toilet Map launched last Wednesday 19th November on World Toilet Day*
Previous versions of the map have existed since 2011, but this is now the largest publicly accessible toilet database in the UK by some way. It has over 9500 toilets, and I’d be confident of saying that the map will help you to find toilets no matter where you live.
If for some inexplicable reason it doesn’t, you can add, edit and remove toilets until it does! We’ve had over 1000 toilets added this week.
There are also a tiny minority of locations where the data has gone a bit loopy with duplicate loos or inaccurate locations. Don’t be shy about removing those that you think are wrong, or telling us at email@example.com about parts of the country that may need a little attention. You’ll be doing us a huge favour.
*As well as World Toilet Day, it was also GIS Day (Geographic Information System). They might as well name it Toilet Map Day.
I’m having a belated grump about the Mayor of London’s ‘Open London‘ scheme.
Open London is a London-wide community toilet scheme, where businesses say that anyone can use their toilets without having to buy anything.
The difference between ‘Open London’ and council-level community toilet schemes is that the Mayor’s participants tend to be national chains, and they don’t get a yearly grant – it’s more a good-will thing. Nor, as far as I can tell, is there any sort of contract, which is a bit of a problem, as we shall see..
Launched in 2009, an article in the Guardian described it thus:
“Open London” stickers will be used to publicise firms willing to lend their toilets for free during opening hours without obliging individuals to make a purchase.
Many stores.. ..already allow passersby to use their loos without buying so much as a packet of chewing gum.
The trouble is that most people do not know that such facilities are open to the public – something that Johnson is trying to put right by providing information about where the nearest accessible loo is located”
However when the scheme launched, most of the participating businesses, except John Lewis I think, refused to show the sticker.
What’s more, John Lewis is the only participant where every store has a toilet. For the other main participants; ASDA, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and M&S; it depends on the store. Not even the Mayor has a list or map that shows where the Open London toilets are.
So the whole point of Open London – the sticker – has gone amiss. With that in mind, other than a 3-year-old press release, what is Open London?
In 2011 the London Assembly published their recommendations to the Mayor following their investigation into public toilets. 3 of the 5 recommendations related to Open London:
- to include GLA buildings in the scheme (rejected)
- to expand the scheme (accepted, though he claimed that ‘those major companies – which mostly feature on every major high street.. are already signed up’)
- to provide open data about the participants’ facilities (sort of accepted – he can’t compel the businesses to, but would support the London Assembly if they were to ask them)
As an Open London participant, Tesco were invited to the GLA’s Health and Public Services Committee in January 2011 to discuss all things public toilet [transcript].
Their statements seemed contradictory. Here’s a selection:
“We are very pleased to be part of the Mayor’s overall scheme.” (they actually said this eight times!)
“There is a slight reluctance to publicise the overall schemes in our windows. It is that balance of us being a business, and making sure that our stores are there to be retail outlets rather than an overall municipal toilet facility.”
“We will continue to work with the Greater London Authority, the Mayor’s office and with local authorities in terms of publicising the schemes in whatever way we can.”
“Obviously, every local authority has community facilities, town hall, libraries which have these facilities there. I cannot imagine that Barking and Dagenham or any local authority would have a big sign saying, ‘Public facilities are available in these buildings.” (plenty do, by the way..)
Summary: “We’re really happy to be mentioned in the press release saying that anyone can use our toilet, but we don’t want to put up a sign saying so, or a sign saying that this store has a toilet, but we’ll do whatever we can to help promote the scheme, except that.“
I don’t really understand the problem. There was never a suggestion of putting up a “big sign saying public toilet”. There was a green sticker saying ‘Open London’ which, frankly, meant nothing to anyone, and was therefore more subtle than most community toilet scheme stickers.
Really it amounted to little more than a supermarket having a sign outside that listed toilets amongst their facilities, which you would think they would do anyway.
However Tesco were just echoing the sentiment of other retailers, including some community toilet scheme businesses who are contractually obliged to show the sticker and still remove or hide the damn things.
Open data and Tesco
The information about which stores have toilets exists through Tesco’s online Store Locator.
Through obsessive and extensive trawling last year I found 57 Tesco stores in Greater London with toilets [data].
If Tesco were to open-up their Store Locator data, the toilet information could be incorporated in maps and apps, as would other data in the Store Locator such as the locations of Tesco’s pharmacies, cash machines, and accessibility info, which is perhaps more appealing.
Open data about privately-managed yet publicly-accessible toilets, including train stations, service stations and supermarkets, is the next big challenge after council data.
It may even be more useful as half the participants in our research project preferred and were already using these facilities rather than traditional public toilets; and easier to obtain as we’re now dealing with national datasets.
Tesco already have an API for developer use for their online shopping, so they’re not adverse to this sort of thing.
So it could be that, following their disappointing comments at the GLA Committee meeting, Tesco will turn out to be the leaders in this field, and that other providers of publicly accessible toilets will follow suit.
What is a public toilet?
I keep talking about local authorities as the providers of public toilets. In reality I’m not quite that naive.
For there are many ‘publicly-accessible toilets’ that do not (or may not) fall under council control, e.g.
- Shopping Centres
- Transport Hubs (Train / Underground / Bus / Port)
Here’s a sliding scale of publicly-accessible toilets that I made.
Green is public sector, blue is private sector.
By ‘accessible’ I mean mentally, or legally, more than physically (accessible is often used to describe wheelchair-accessible facilities – that’s a whole other issue). Accessible is clearly not a great word to use – suggestions are welcome… Some of the ordering is a little dubious too…
Further down the scale most of the toilets are not ‘intended’ for the general public. Including these in maps and apps rather disadvantages those people who don’t wish to ask favours or blag it. Not really inclusive design…
My earlier map of the London Borough of Wandsworth toilets showed the council’s Superloos (marked in yellow) and Community Toilet Scheme (blue), but now it has all of the other publicly-accessible toilets too. This has added nearly 20 extra loos, more than some councils have in the first place!
Where did these extra toilets come from?
As fun as it is to intersperse the committee meeting’s minutes with my own comments, I think it would be more helpful if I write (and perhaps send to them, once I’ve made it less anecdotal and ranty) some conclusions and advice in response to the Health & Public Services Committee who are reviewing London’s public toilets.
These recommendations relate to Open London & Community Toilet Schemes. The committee didn’t really cover toilet maps in their discussions, so the comments on this subject that our Research Project submitted as part of the GLA’s Call for Evidence (pdf) still stand.
Open London and Community Toilet Schemes
It’s tempting to think of the Mayor’s Open London scheme as a Community Toilet Scheme for Central London.
In reality, there are clear distinctions between the two.
- Open London covers all of Greater London; Community Toilet Schemes are run by a Borough and cover all or part of a Borough.
- Open London works in partnership with national businesses and retailers, through their Head Office; Community Toilet Schemes work with small businesses and franchises, through Store Managers.
- Open London does not pay businesses a grant to allow non-customers to use their toilets; Community Toilet Schemes do.
- Open London covers businesses who’s toilets you’d use anyway, generally, without asking; Community Toilet Schemes, generally, do not.
The participants of Open London, according to the website, are ASDA, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Borders (ahem), John Lewis, and Viyella and Austin Reed (both Regent Street only).
Point 1: Which stores have toilets?
The last two are interesting, as it makes you think ‘Oh! I didn’t know these shops had toilets’. The rest; Supermarkets, Department Stores, and M&S; we’d all use anyway, regardless of whether they’re on the scheme.
In 2006 the Greater London Authority (GLA) had an investigation into The State of London’s Public Toilets (pdf).
4 years later the Health & Public Services Committee are holding a review.
As part of our research project Out-of-Order we responded to their call for evidence into changes since 2006. You can download our response here. It’s a cracker. (a cracker that takes a moment to load. Like, 10 seconds. It’s worth it, trust me)
Yesterday (12th January) the Committee met to discuss current provision with a range of guests. I watched it this morning via the webcast, got far too into it, and started taking minutes.
It goes on a bit too long for a blog post, so check it out via this link to an entirely paraphrased version of the committee meeting, which includes, as it goes along, my comments and answers to their rhetorical questions.
No really, do.
It was interesting, if personally a bit disappointing. But there are some seeds of ideas and I’m sure (well I’m not, but I’m hopeful) that the GLA will do lots more good things to follow on from this.
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?