Funding questions plug downtown public toilet progress after last summer’s pilot project

The city’s pop-up toilet project has been plugged while the operators look for a sustainable revenue model to staff and maintain the facility.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/07/2019 (1226 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The city’s pop-up toilet project has been plugged while the operators look for a sustainable revenue model to staff and maintain the facility.

Last summer, a neon orange structure — an accessible public porta-potty that doubles as a public art installation — popped up at various locations downtown.

A collaborative project between the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, Siloam Mission and BridgmanCollaborative Architecture, the facilities were open to the public at no charge between June and October. It’s been in storage since.

“It is essential, that in order to create an inclusive downtown, we provide public amenities to everyone,” said Wins Bridgman, the designer behind the structure and owner of BridgmanCollaborative Architecture.

“The next step is figuring out forms of financing.”

Architect's pop-up porta-potty is a triumphant step in his long human-rights campaign

BRIDGEMANCOLLABORATIVE ARCHITECTURE The hope is to have this project, with the mobile toilet as the centrepiece, up and running for late May or early June.


It’s a few hours until game time — the Winnipeg Jets about to host the Nashville Predators in Game 6 of their NHL playoff series — and a crew from the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ Enviro Team is doing the dirty work most city residents won’t see. Or even know about, for that matter.They are spraying a dumpster in a back alley just off Portage Avenue and Vaughan Street, a regular problem spot for public urination. After the spraying is finished, the crew will apply a deodorizer.

Then it’s off to the next call.

It’s a scene that plays out every day in Winnipeg’s downtown, where the Enviro Team of between eight and 16 employees usually respond to about 10 calls a day to clean up feces and urine found on storefronts or yards during summer months.

And if they didn’t?

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Members of Siloam Mission’s employment program staffed the kiosk attached to the renovated shipping container’s two stalls. Employees were tasked with cleaning the facility, as well as selling branded T-shirts, reusable water bottles and newspapers.

Remaining proceeds also went to the agency, which provides services for people experiencing homelessness in the city.

The 2018 potty project came at a total price tag of $100,000.

About 35 people used the downtown facilities every day during the pilot, the Downtown BIZ said.

And in a statement, the business-improvement group said it has nothing to share about the project’s current status.

“We are still working through something for this year with community partners but it is taking longer than expected,” spokesperson Tineke Buiskool-Leeuwma said in a statement.

When the pilot wrapped up, the Downtown BIZ told the Free Press it had plans to continue the pilot in 2019, with an end goal of establishing a permanent location.

A longtime advocate for public toilets, Bridgman said he’s in discussions with the city about altering downtown advertising bylaws to allow for ads to be installed on the structure in order to generate funds needed to run it.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Pop-up public toilets at the corner of Hargrave Street and Graham Avenue last summer.

The city confirmed it’s looking into a request to review a bylaw that restricts advertising signs on private property. But a city communications officer said some of the project’s successful elements have led the city to believe there are ways to address the need for more accessible public facilities that don’t require bylaw amendments.

Bridgman said that he and his wife Rae St. Clair Bridgman, a professor in the department of city planning at the University of Manitoba, are in the planning stages of creating a national public washroom strategy. The need for free public toilets is universal, he added.

“It’s a basic human need,” said disability advocate Jim Derksen. “It’s a fundamental human right to have a private place that’s relatively clean and available to you.”

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES The pop-up facilities have been in storage since the end of last summer.

Derksen, who navigates the city in a power wheelchair, tried the pop-up washroom last summer.

“It’s in the demonstration process but it’s something that should not need to be demonstrated. It’s an obvious no-brainer,” he said.

“We despise the people that defecate and urinate in public and yet we don’t give anybody a chance to avoid that.”

Aside from the toilet itself, posters bearing the words, “My Winnipeg Includes Public Toilets” were plastered on bus shelters across Winnipeg in 2018.

Derksen applauded the public toilet awareness campaign and wants more like it so the issue doesn’t get flushed from urban planning conversations.

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

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