Thursday, May 03, 2007

Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown

Today's LA Times has an article on my fine city's efforts to "instill a more pedestrian culture" through fancy porta potties. Cara Mia DiMassa (Addam's Family anyone?) reports: "Though the luxury public toilet has become a status symbol in cities around the world, in L.A. it's a slightly complicated tale--one of the city's efforts to create a more pedestrian-oriented life, but also a story about its bureaucratic struggles to achieve that goal."

I myself was completely unaware that the public toilet had become an "urban status symbol," but apparently the company with LA's fancy-pissoir contract, JP Decaux, has a long list of distinguished cities among its clients. San Francisco has 22 coin-operated APCs (automated public conveniences) and they give free tokens to the homeless who account for a third of the customers. London, Singapore, and Athens have 500. New York has been shy about giving any one company a monopoly on such a lucrative recession-proof business. But that's not the only thing stopping them from jumping on the baño bandwagon. The parks commissioner, Henry Stern, explains that there is a trifecta of toilet "misuse": people commit crimes, do drugs, and have sex in public toilets. New York won't be party to encouraging that sort of behavior.

In the role of dad on a family road trip ("you should have thought of that before we left") Stern admonishes, "People have to exercise restraint, and people have to know when to go. This is not something that was discovered in the year 2000. It was a basic part of the human condition, and people out on the streets should make arrangements to take care of the physical needs."

If the answer in New York is "just hold it," Los Angeles' extravagent outhouse situation is just as telling a reflection of our city. Six months ago, the first five luxury APCs were installed downtown. The plan is to install up to 150 throughout the city. How's that working for us? Well, only one of the five installed six months ago is operational. It seems that the different city departments that have to communicate to get the units working (sewer, power, water, phone) aren't cooperating, and of course, everyone is blaming everyone else. You can, however, track progress through blogdowntown's Toilet Watch.

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