New York City is a great place to live or visit, but it has some drawbacks. One of the biggest issues is the lack of public toilets. The city simply doesn’t have enough bathrooms for its large population. Even in places where public toilets do exist, they’re not always accessible to those who need them most.
by David Stone
If you live in New York City enough, you see it all. In terms of a huge absence of public toilets, that’s usually more than enough.
I’ve been stopped on the street by visitors desperate for a place to relieve themselves. There have been frantic appeals on Facebook.
But for a city claiming it’s the greatest in the world, there’s worse.
Need the shortest route to relief: A Bathroom Map for New York City
(The Roosevelt Island Daily thanks Sylvan Klein for the tip.)
When I was first in New York, I was startled one day. A woman standing next to me at a crosswalk said, “I can’t believe what I’m seeing.” Straight ahead of us, a man had unzipped and was urinating beside a parked car.
It was a first for me.
More recently, I caught sight of a man crouching at the curb, defecating in public.
Your immediate response might be disgust at the behavior, but then, as I told my wife, “Where else are they going to go?”
Poor Governance: Failing to Act on the Absence of Public Toilets
The shortage of public toilets in New York City can be traced back decades ago to when city planners wanted to make the streets more attractive and welcoming for pedestrians. To do this, they removed some of the public amenities such as garbage cans and street benches, but unfortunately along with them went public toilets.
This shortage of public toilets creates several problems in the Big Apple. The first issue is that there are few options available for those who need to relieve themselves while on the go. This can lead to people urinating or defecating in public spaces, which doesn’t just create an unpleasant atmosphere but could also be labeled as criminal activity in certain circumstances.
A second problem is one that affects everything else in hyper-expensive New York: bureaucracy. It’s an invisible crime all over New York City and State. It’s the major reason why, with virtually the same populations, New York’s budget doubles that of Florida. A lot of corruption opportunities hide in the deepest corners.
A pre-pandemic review by The City found that approving public toilets means going through at least five city agencies and costs around $3.6 million each.
The bureaucratic density even grounded Mike Bloomberg’s administration.
The lack of available public restrooms can also cause health risks as people may resort to using unsanitary alternatives out of desperation, leading to potential disease transmission and other problems. It can also create hygiene issues for disadvantaged populations that may not have access to private toilets or running water at home.
How Do Other Major Cities Handle the Same Needs?
In international cities like London, Paris and Tokyo, there are public restrooms available in various locations. Many of these toilets use automated systems to ensure cleanliness and limit vandalism or other inappropriate uses. Some cities, such as Tokyo, also provide free public restroom facilities for the disabled and those with special needs.
It’s clear that New York City needs more public toilets if it wants to keep its streets clean and maintain a reasonable level of sanitation for all its residents and visitors alike. But finding ways to construct or repurpose existing facilities isn’t always easy—it requires time, money, resources, and political will from city leaders that are often hard to come by when competing priorities are taken into consideration.
Until something changes, New Yorkers will have to continue dealing with this perennial problem on their own terms—and hope that someday all citizens will have access to clean, safe restrooms no matter where they go in the city limits!