America Has a Toilet Crisis
This public health failure is more proof that society is fully in the shitter.
You never know what the fates are going to deliver to us next, and in a shocking turn of events, the issue of public restrooms—or rather, the lack thereof—is having... a bit of a moment?? I know, I know, I see your eyebrow raised. Hold on a sec, I have receipts.
A few weeks ago, I thought I was maybe just experiencing the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon (aka frequency illusion) after reading that a group of New York City Council members had introduced a bill to install over 4,000 new public restrooms in the city over the next 12 years. That news came on the heels of a piece in the Los Angeles Public Press about LA’s alarming lack of permanent public bathrooms (we only have 14 for four million residents!!!! 14!!!! And the Olympics are coming, my god!!!!) and the history of how in the hell we got here.
Now, two’s company, but three’s a crowd (or a “trend” in the case of blogging), and the proof to me that this was more than mere coincidence came in the form of a good old-fashioned TV show: The HBO NYC-based comedy/docuseries How To With John Wilson. The first episode of the current and final season is called “How To Find a Public Restroom,” and as is the case of every episode of How To, it’s never really about what it says it’s about. I won’t rehash the full episode here, but let’s just say that it really goes places, including the Hole—a low-lying neighborhood on the border between Brooklyn and Queens with regular flooding, where many homes remain unconnected to the city’s sewer system. The episode doesn’t pointedly address the societal war against poor and unhoused people, or the government’s ongoing basic failure to follow through on its stated purpose of serving the public good, but it does illustrate how the problem of where to piss is about so much more than simply that.
Obviously, this is an issue that never actually went away, and activists have been advocating for more public hygiene facilities for years. In fact, a group of NYC unhoused residents sued the city and the MTA over lack of access to public restrooms way back in 1990 (sigh). But we seem to be in a new moment of collective consciousness and outrage over how and where we relieve ourselves in public. It’s something most of us take for granted or regard as a mere annoyance. But if you stop to consider the issue for oh, say, the time it takes to pee, it’s pretty clear that the state of our public restrooms is really a referendum on how we’re doing as a society. And yeah, we’re really not doing well.
The precise reason for this crisis is in some ways long and complicated, and in other ways, very simple.
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