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The problem of public toilets: Inadequate, divided and contested provision

Starts: 12 December 2013

Risk, Interaction and Organisation (RIO) Research Group Lecture

Thursday 12th December 2013, 2.00-4.00pm

Lecture Theatre -1.64, Glamorgan Building

Speaker: Professor Clara Greed


Public toilets are often seen as no more than a joke. In this talk I will discuss their importance in creating sustainable, accessible, healthy and inclusive cities.

Local authorities have permissive powers to provide toilets if they so wish, but there is no mandatory requirement under existing legislation. Therefore they are a soft target for closure under current financial constraints. There is a need to recognise and meet the needs of all sorts of toilet users - male and female, able and disabled, old and young, gay and straight - in terms of toilet design and level of provision. If government wants to get people out of their cars and back to public transport, walking and cycling, then public toilets are the missing link. They need to be localised as non-car travellers cannot whizz off to the nearest motorway facilities.

Public toilets are heavily contested spaces, as ‘all human life is there’. Women in particular have been badly disadvantaged having less than half the numbers of ‘places to pee’: a situation which has been endorsed within British regulatory standards. Are unisex toilets the answer? How to address the calls for the desegregation of public toilets from some gay toilet users and transsexual people who feel uneasy using existing toilets? How to achieve the objectives of personal safety, privacy, practicality, good maintenance, hygiene, cleanliness, and good access and signage?

This intensely practical area of public policy encapsulates the possibility of multiple risk issues, from threats to comfort, cleanliness and embarrassment, to physical safety. These challenges need practical solutions.

Clara Greed is Emerita Professor in planning at the University of the West of England.


Other information

Open To: Staff and Students