Public toilets often get a bad rap, partially because of what are less-than-sanitary public units in most cities. And although the numbers of public restrooms have been on the decline in some cities, others have taken it upon themselves to renovate, decorate and make public toilets more accessible.
From fancy to smart, cities like New York, Tokyo and Mumbai have made an effort to change perceptions of public bathrooms.
In April 2017 , New York installed a posh public toilet complex at the cost of $300,000, replete with air conditioning, imported tiles, classical music and decorated with artwork and fresh flowers. The high-tech 310 square feet (28.8 square meter) facility is located in a landmarked Beaux Arts building behind New York Public Library in Manhattan.
Although the complex is considerably small for a public toilet, the park authorities expect one million visitors per year. The women’s facility has three toilet stalls, while the men’s has two stalls and three urinals – the same number as before the renovation, which took three months. The facility can’t be expanded, as it would violate the scenic landmark it is installed in.
“We strive for perfection and only settle for excellence,” declared Dan Biederman, Executive Cirector of the Bryant Park Corp, the non-profit organization funding the luxurious complex. Bryant Park also manages the city-owned park and works to improve business in the neighborhood, which includes Fifth Avenue.
As Tokyo gears up for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, part of its preparations include enhancing its public toilet facilities, which range from western-style toilets to traditional toilets installed on the ground – the latter being facilities which oblige visitors to squat to do their business. But perhaps the most confusing part for visitors to Japan is the elaborate system of signs and symbols instated in toilets (there is a Wikipedia page dedicated solely to explaining Toilets in Japan). Japanese toilets are famously outfitted with bidet or spray facilities, air drying and seat warming functions, and, in some cases, phone cleaning paper – each with a separate icon. Japanese mobile phone operator Docomo has even made a video tutorial instructing visitors to the country on how to use toilets in Japan.
In an effort to revolutionize its public toilet system and make it more accessible to foreigners, the Japanese government and a consortium of plumbing product companies have united and agreed to create and standardize high-tech toilet icons in Tokyo’s public toilets. The consortium will standardize the icons, which include: raise the toilet lid, raise the toilet seat, large flush, small flush, rear spray, bidet, dry, and stop. The consortium collaborating on this public toilet revolution includes Toshiba, Panasonic and Toto, among others, and they are scheduled to start engineering their plans on solid ground this year.
In a country were almost 60% of the population has no toilet in their homes, (this rises to about 72% in rural areas), and half of India’s 1.2 billion people still defecate in the open, toilets are a big deal. Irrespective of social class, if a man needs to take a leak in India, he’s likely to find the nearest corner, unzip and do his business.
It’s a cultural problem and many organizations and institutions are trying to change this behavioral challenge at its roots. TV network Viacom18 kicked off the second phase of ‘Chakachak Mumbai’ and installed a set of public toilets last month in the western suburb of Bandra. In the first phase of ‘Chakachak Mumbai,’ Viacom18 renovated more than 200 toilets across four slums in Andheri East.
‘Chakachak Mumbai’ is a project that has been working side-by-side with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai to educate locals against open-defecating. To gradually dissolve the headstrong behavioral culture, the campaign transforms the outside of mobile public toilets into art canvases to display the city’s cultural diversity. The toilet blocks have drawings that illustrate Mumbai’s lifeline of local trains, Hindi cinema, the fishermen “Koli” community, and other similar themes, aiming to ignite a flame of pride in the communities, encourage more people to use the public toilets and bring an end to the phenomena of defecating or urinating in the open.