public bathrooms

Axes of Peeing in Public
The social and biological axes of public peeing

What works

This was something I used to help me think through the two main axes that determine peeing behavior – biological and social control. Urination is a biological function that has been subjected to a great degree of social control. Unfortunately, urban design has not kept pace with the demand for clean, easily accessible public restrooms for humans. And there has been no attempt to create any kind of system to deal with canine urine. In most cities it is illegal for humans to pee in public but both legal and widely accepted for dogs to pee where ever they like (in New York, they cannot pee on the grass in parks).

What worked about this as a graphic is that it helped me sort out how I was thinking about the problem of access to the city when the bladder is a leash. I couldn’t quite sort out how to think about what it means that some public peeing is acceptable even though it is mostly completely unacceptable. One of the odd side effects of the introduction of the new TSA pat down procedures is that it revealed just how many people struggle with incontinence, either needing to urinate frequently or needing to wear diapers (or both). I was aware of those issues before the TSA started sticking their hands in private places, but I wasn’t sure how to simultaneously think about adult diapers, dogs peeing on the street, and taxi/truck drivers peeing in jugs while still in their cabs. Where social control is very strong – as it is in the case of urination – it can almost trump biological needs, especially if the biological needs offer a level of control. Clearly, not all peeing can be put under biological control, but a good deal of it can. I stuck vomiting on the map since that is harder to control than peeing and it was useful to include a biological drive that has not been so easy to tame with the civilizing process.

What needs work

The glaring problem here is the ‘who cares’ problem. Very few care about the axes of social and biological control, though there are a few other case types that could use these axes (burping/farting, posture, chewing, etc). But the re-use of this exact same set of axes is not the point. Nor do I particularly care if you are interested in public peeing.

I introduced this graphic because it was helpful to me in thinking through the analysis of a multi-faceted problem. All social science problems are multi-faceted. Setting up four quadrants as a field is superior to setting up four quadrants in a two by two table, though that is a variant of this approach. I find that approach is too reductive, forcing things to be lumped together that really are not all that similar. In this case, I was able to add more nuance by leaving the mid-section of the biological control vector unmarked while I singled out incontinence and retention (where retention is beyond routine continence).

This approach to thinking through forces you to come up with the two critical dimensions that organize both the empirical information you’ve gathered and the theoretical arc you would like to follow. If you are skilled, you could add a third dimension. A 2×2 table only gives you boxes, not spectrums. What’s more, the spectrum approach is more open, allowing the addition of further segmentation or layering which is not as easy to achieve in a 2×2 table.

Stadium Variety Bathroom of the Future | Molotch and Nor&ecute;n
Stadium Variety Bathroom of the Future | Molotch and Nor&ecute;n

What’s new?

If you read the blog regularly, you’ve seen this before. So what’s new, you ask? Well, for one thing, we decided it was necessary to add a lactation area. It’s adjacent to the attendant’s booth; in a perfect world the attendant can watch the stroller while mom pumps or breastfeeds. The divider between the lactation area and the attendant’s booth is a heavy curtain – like a theatre’s curtain – so that if mom has little kids running around, there are fewer places for fingers to be pinched. Swinging doors and small children have been known to be a bad combination, especially when mom may not be able to react in a lightening quick fashion as she is in the midst of feeding a different child or pumping (or changing a different child’s diaper). Furthermore, the lactation area is near the attendant to lend the sensibility and the reality of extra watchfulness over both mom’s with their breasts out and the potentially escaping toddlers. This configuration also places the lactation area just about as far away from the noise and commotion of the rest of the bathroom as is possible. Nobody likes to eat where others…well, you know what I mean. We included a changing area in here in addition to the one in the main space because we figured it would be more convenient for moms who are breastfeeding to have the opportunity to change a baby right in the same spot. There wasn’t enough space for a toilet (for mom herself, or for accompanying folks like dads, siblings, and nannies). We were hoping to have space for at least two lactating moms or a lactating mom and a dad to fit in this cubby of a space. But I’ll leave it as an open question? Should we have fully enclosed this space and put a toilet in there? Or is it better that two moms can do what they need to do at the same time? Leaving it a little bigger and not stuffed with a toilet also means dad or grandma or whoever is part of the crew can have a spot next to mom while she pumps or breastfeeds.

Adding the lactation area forced us to reorient the attendant’s booth to face mostly into the main bathroom area. There is still a small window on the right hand side which will be the first thing most people see as they enter the bathroom. Folks who are a little shy about asking for tampons or clean needles or whatever like that might be able to approach the smaller, more private side window rather than the big one in the front. However, from the big front window, the attendant will be able to see most of what is going on in the main space, save for the urinal area. There was discussion of adding a one-way mirror between the attendant’s booth and the urinals, high enough so that no penises would be in view. This would allow the attendant to be within site of just about everything, save the individual stalls. Safety would be increased, privacy would be decreased. What do you think? Mirror or no mirror? Remember, the one-way mirror would be located too high to see any penises unless those penises were attached to someone standing well away from a urinal.

Office-scale bathroom of the future | Molotch and Norén
Office-scale bathroom of the future | Molotch and Norén

What’s new?

In this office scale version, I reconfigured some of the wall segments and added a completely new one in the middle of the space after a commenter on this blog mentioned that visibility into (and out of) the urinals might not be desirable and would be easy to screen. He was right. Now men can be more comfortable knowing that they cannot be seen and nobody will spot the back of a man at a urinal upon stepping into the bathroom. There are still more stalls than urinals – better for women and men, if you ask me. Not better for the environment since toilets use far more water than urinals (especially when the urinals are waterless, as they now are in many new construction projects).

Style points?

I admit these are not the most stylish of plans. I’m not an architect and not aware of all the style conventions employed to make plans both interesting and legible. I’m taking opinions on what to change. Bring it on, folks, bring it on.

I decided to give the sinks a radial gradient though now I’m not sure if it’s obvious that they are sinks. I made the font bigger in the stadium version because it appears that our publisher will be printing it at about the same scale as the one you see above. Small.

The book?

The book – “Toilet: The Public Restroom and the Politics of Sharing” will come out on World Toilet Day, November 19, 2010. These two images, or images quite like these, will appear in the concluding chapter by Harvey Molotch.