Is there a public toilet around here somewhere? It’s urgent

Is there a public toilet around here somewhere? It’s urgent
Is there a public toilet around here somewhere? It’s urgent
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I canI’m not the only one who always rushes to the toilet with my coat and shoes on when I get home, or too often quickly orders a coffee in unpleasant cafes to go to the smallest room. Flanders and Brussels still suffer from a lack of public, accessible toilets. And that is mainly a lack of well-thought-out spatial policy.

My search for the number or locations of public toilets in Flanders confirms that I have no blinders on. On the website of the Flemish government I am completely blunt. When I search with a ‘public toilet’ filter on the old-fashioned ‘Accessible Flanders’ platform, I feel vicarious shame towards the people who really need this website in their daily lives. Finding a toilet shouldn’t be investigative journalism.

I’ll just reduce the radar then. On to the Koekenstad. The Visit Antwerp platform does not yield any meaningful search results, the city website only provides a list of public toilets per district, for God’s sake. The Antwerp district – which will have approximately 195,000 inhabitants and 11.6 million day tourists in 2022 – has twelve. And that only concerns libraries, museums, culture and sports centers. Places with limited opening hours, where you also have to cross a literal and figurative threshold to enter. Note that the supply decreases significantly on Sundays and public holidays. With the exception of Central Station, where each sanitary stop costs you 1 euro.

Here and there things are moving forward. Brussels launched the Toilet Plan, Ghent focused on more visible, even gender-neutral toilets and De Panne opened a self-cleaning toilet at the Westhoek Reserve in March. Still, it’s too early for hurray. Remove all commercial matters from the lists, and there is still very little left. Ditto for the Dutch HogeNood app, in which dozens of toilets in our country are already registered. Definitely a useful tool, unless you are hesitant to enter a hotel just to visit the toilet. Or unless all so-called hospitable locations are closed in the middle of a pandemic. For example, Vera testified in 2020 about how her daughter, who has autism and rheumatism, no longer dared to go for a walk due to fear of peeing.

Vulnerable target groups

The responsibility to accommodate an urgent toilet visit is not only that of shops and catering establishments. It is not up to them to open their toilets to non-customers. It is not up to them to prevent public urination. It is up to the policy to invest in a well-thought-out and accessible public space. And to at least ensure that the few public toilets in your city are open 24/7, as is only now big news in Leuven – the entertainment city par excellence.

Going to the toilet is a basic need. You tired of pooping, tired of poking. You can laugh about it, but you will quickly lose your laughter if your day trip becomes uncomfortable or painful due to a full bladder. Holding your urine for too long poses medical risks, and certain target groups are extra vulnerable in this regard. People with bladder and/or intestinal problems, for example, who fortunately can use the sanitary facilities of all kinds of places more easily thanks to the ‘toilet pass’ from Stoma Vlaanderen. That threshold, you know. But older people, young children and women, especially if they are pregnant or menstruating, also need a toilet more often. It is no longer news that public space was designed according to male standards.

Vicious circle

There is something to be said for public toilets attracting crime and vandalism, as maintenance often leaves much to be desired. Dirt attracts filth. For this reason, public toilets are now disappearing, as was the case in Antwerp last year. But then you end up in a vicious circle. Recent research by Brussels Studies therefore argues, despite the current nuisance, for more free and maintained toilets, “if we want to make the public space in Brussels inviting and diverse”. And let that at least be the ambition. Maintenance costs the policy time and money, but is a prerequisite for making it a success story.

We already see that things can be done differently just across the border. The number of public toilets in the Netherlands has increased by more than 2,000 in the last four years and within the Paris ring road alone you will find more than 750. In the Netherlands and Paris, more than half of them are accessible to wheelchair users. Anyone who suggests that sanitary facilities spoil the appearance of a city, I will give the gift of a one-way ticket to Tokyo, where architects and artists elevate some toilets to true design. If a city or municipality wants to be accessible, inclusive and attractive to residents and visitors, it is better to invest in sufficient, visible, free and maintained public toilets. Maybe then I’ll even run home less quicklys.

The article is in Dutch

Tags: public toilet urgent

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