Saturday, April 17, 2010

Park Toilet Disparities and Challenges

"Public parks present a special challenge. "

Photographs by Ruby Washington/The New York Times
The bathroom at Van Cortlandt Park, Bryant Park’s bathroom entrance and paper in the facility near Bethesda Fountain in Central Park.

The birds and the bees are in full view across New York’s parks these days, but when it comes to another fact of life, the signs can be a little less obvious. In Central Park, where a generous conservancy has attended to every landscaped inch, many maps posted along the way say nothing about any of the 19 free restrooms scattered across its 843 acres, according to the New York Times.

“If you’ve got to go to the bathroom, you might have to walk a mile,” warned Colm O’Connell, a park plumber whom I ran into as I was wandering around looking. “Some people don’t want to do that. They want to go behind a tree. They ask me, ‘Can I go?’ ” He laughed. “I’m not a cop, I’m a plumber.”

Without plumbing, cities could not exist, and without public facilities, people couldn’t navigate those cities — they would be, as the scholar Clara Greed has written, “tethered close to home by the bladder’s leash.” So if an army travels on its stomach, you might say a city travels on its bladder. Why, then, is it so difficult to find a good restaurant on the front lines, or an open restroom in New York City?

A number of community-minded citizens have compiled maps (first on paper, now online at sites like sitorsquat.comand of where New Yorkers on the go can go. My mother’s advice: hotel lobbies. And there’s always Starbucks.

Public parks present a special challenge. With no Starbucks around, you must attend to intimate needs while in the company of strangers, try to stay clean in a place designed to attract cooties, take shelter in an island of privacy to which the entire city has access.

These paradoxes are nowhere more evident than in the new Brooklyn Bridge Park, where Caterpillar tractors fill the air with churning grunts and cautionary beeps, and where visitors relieve themselves as all of Lower Manhattan watches. 

Read More:

Sunday in the Park, Feeling Nature’s Call

New York Times -April 16, 2010 -  By Ariel Kaminer 

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