Editorial –Public Privies

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IT is a sad day when merchants and tenants of a Main Street strip celebrate the establishment, and then mourn the loss, of two ugly porta-potties on a prominent corner of one of the city's most-travelled routes. The city was able to get them removed on the technicality of a missing permit. So the "image problem" evident to passersby is gone, but the fact was that those most affected preferred the eye-sore because the alternative -- putting up with the smell and sight of feces and urine on the streets, back lanes or recessed entrances to buildings -- is intolerable.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/09/2008 (5136 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

IT is a sad day when merchants and tenants of a Main Street strip celebrate the establishment, and then mourn the loss, of two ugly porta-potties on a prominent corner of one of the city’s most-travelled routes. The city was able to get them removed on the technicality of a missing permit. So the “image problem” evident to passersby is gone, but the fact was that those most affected preferred the eye-sore because the alternative — putting up with the smell and sight of feces and urine on the streets, back lanes or recessed entrances to buildings — is intolerable.

A local architect was ordered to remove the portable toilets from his property at the corner of Main and Higgins because he broke the rules, but also because the administration, and those involved in Main Street revitalization, recognized that the toilets detracted from the image the city wants to project to visitors and citizens on a busy street.

Architect Wins Bridgman’s decision to place portable toilets at Main and Higgins was a practical, albeit “in your face” solution to the long-standing issue of homeless people and transients relieving themselves in public spots. Main Street folk reported a noticeable, salutary result: less mess and smell. Negotiations to move the portables to a less obvious location, a Salvation Army parking lot on a nearby street, are underway.

The danger is that stashing the portable toilets respectably out of sight relieves pressure on public officials to respond to a persistent public problem — how best to serve the people who do not have convenient, regular access to toilets during the day? That is an abiding concern of the homeless, but the general absence of modern, convenient comfort stations and water fountains in Winnipeg is one of broader public policy.

The city has left cleaning up Main Street to its business improvement zone, which is looking at a variety of options, including the possibility of making use of buildings owned by social service agencies and the new Winnipeg Regional Health Authority headquarters rising now at Main and Logan. But the real solution is a political one. It requires city council to wrestle with the question of how public spaces and places — including parks — can be equipped with convenient and modern comfort stations.

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