“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 nyrestroom.com) 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.
New York Times -April 16, 2010 - By Ariel Kaminer