Skip to main content

Crohn's & Colitis
blogs, news & research


Public toilets letting us down

The inadequacy of public toilets today indicates an abandonment of both municipal responsibility and social solidarity

In his 1937 essay What is a City?, historian, sociologist and architecture critic Lewis Mumford described the city as a theatre — a space in which the social drama of urban life could play out.

It’s unlikely he envisioned the daily drama of parents with young children, the sick, and the weak-of-bladder looking in vain for an accessible public toilet.

According to journalist Lezlie Lowe, it’s a struggle that’s all too common — testament to the decline in public toilets.

In her book No Place to Go: How Public Toilets Fail our Private Needs, Lowe argues that the state of our public toilets tells us a great deal about what kind of cities and what kind of society we want to be.

The automated toilets that now dot the urban landscape suggest a rather bleak compromise.

The self-cleaning silver kiosks function increasingly as a kind of anti-facility, designed to minimise messy human reality as much as possible.

The toilets have no seats, to prevent them being defaced or ripped out; they are lit with blue UV lights, to deter drug users; their doors are designed to open automatically, to discourage lingering; and they are almost chronically lacking in soap and paper.

“When automated flushers and [taps] and hand dryers stop working, no human is there to know except the users — who have, precisely as a result of automation, been alienated from the space and feel no need to … report, for example, a non-flushing and rapidly filling clogged toilet,” Lowe told RN’s Blueprint for Living.

It’s hard to imagine a more abject illustration of the failure of economic rationalism in urban design than a hapless individual interrupted while trying to relieve herself, by an automatically flushing toilet that flushed too soon, and automated doors that open unprompted to expose the unfolding drama within.

Lowe started writing about public bathrooms a long time ago because she had young children.

Nothing brings the issue into sharper relief than a child looking up at you in desperation, saying they need to go, she says.

“I recognised that I was changing the way I used the city because I always had to have bathroom radar.

“So I started looking at different people, for example, people who have Crohn’s or Colitis. Their entire day may be structured around where [they] can go, where [they] know [they] have instant access.”

Of course, people with serious health conditions are just the pointy end of the problem. Lowe quotes one estimate that suggests when you include the elderly, parents with children, and menstruating women, roughly a quarter of the population has special bathroom needs.

Read full article at

Posted on: June 4 2019

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I agree that my day can be structured around timing to get from one place to another knowing where toilet facilities are accessible. I recently learnt that the NSW Government have a mandate that their public facility operations like Service NSW Offices are to be built with no public toilets. You can wait up to an hour or more at Service NSW Offices when trying to renew your licence or pay registration etc. At my local Services NSW Office someone needing to use the toilet are told to go to a store next door or McDonalds 500+ meters down the road. I don't think this is an acceptable position the State Government should take - given we MUST do our transactions at this location - bathroom facilities in public places should be mandatory.

Forget about public toilets be it in the city or along the highways, they are disgusting and degrading to normal, clean human beings wheather they are healthy or suffering from serious medical conditions. I have Crohns Disease and as a result of the proctocolectomy that I had to undergo I also suffered damage to nerve endings to my bladder. As a result I have to use a catheter to empty my bladder. This has to be done under very clean toilet conditions, can you imagine doing this in a public toilet? No way!!! Thank God for good hotels and restaurants and some wonderful shopping centres! Just don't get stuck out in the bush!

About the author

Crohns & Colitis