June 2, 2020

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Public washrooms downtown long overdue

Winnipeg architect Wins Bridgman


Winnipeg architect Wins Bridgman

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/11/2017 (916 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The folks at the Downtown Winnipeg Business Improvement Zone (BIZ) are customarily polite, so when they broach a topic that is less than genteel, we should listen.

They have pinpointed four or five areas where people are relieving themselves outdoors because there are no public washrooms available. The areas of concern are on Main Street and in the Portage Place area, the Exchange District and the Sports, Hospitality and Entertainment District.

Unfortunately, there is overwhelming — and unsanitary — evidence that the problem is common. About once a week, staff at the Exchange District BIZ power-spray disinfectant on downtown sites such as alleys and the outside walls of businesses that have been contaminated with human waste.

It should be noted that people responsible are only enduring the humiliation of doing their private business in public because they don’t have a choice. They’re often homeless, but not always: some are visitors to downtown who can’t suppress nature’s urgent call. The long-standing scarcity of outdoor toilets in Winnipeg leaves them without a dignified way to relieve themselves — and it leaves Winnipeg embarrassingly short of its ambition to be an urban centre of refinement.

Throughout the years, there have been attempts to provide permanent outdoor facilities in Winnipeg. Public toilets in Memorial Park, across from the legislature, were dismantled in 2006. Two portable toilets near Old Market Square were removed nine years ago. In both cases, they were removed because they were being misused, often for sex, drug abuse or as sleeping quarters.

Many cities in Europe provide adequate outdoor facilities and some cities in Canada — including Vancouver and Montreal — are experimenting with self-cleaning public toilets.

In Winnipeg, the dearth of public toilets in the downtown area has led to many complaints. Happily, it has also led to Downtown Winnipeg BIZ initiating modest, but positive, action that was announced last week at the group’s annual general meeting.

Downtown Winnipeg BIZ plans three temporary "pop-up parks," in which sidewalks will be extended into parking lanes to create a patio-like space for amenities such as food vendors, benches and entertainment. While the concept of pop-up parks sounds compelling, what was even more important was an inclination by BIZ to also attempt "pop-up toilets."

Downtown BIZ has commissioned a local architect to help develop a master plan and bring forward concepts for a long-term toilet strategy and something to meet short-term toilet needs.

Interestingly, the architect commissioned by Downtown Winnipeg BIZ is Wins Bridgman, who is known in these parts for having led a toilet insurrection of sorts.

In 2008, he ignored city hall and set up two portable toilets near his office at the corner of Higgins Avenue and Main Street, for the use of the many street people in the neighbourhood who frequently soil the surrounding property. City officials ended the short-term sedition when they ordered the toilets removed because Mr. Bridgman didn’t have permits for them and because, officials said, the outdoor toilets didn’t look good.

As someone who favoured a practical solution over government red tape, Mr. Bridgman is an inspired choice as the point man in the quest for some form of public toilets downtown. His undertaking warrants financial and bureaucratic backing from all levels of government and industry.

It’s about human dignity. Everyone deserves a private place to go.


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