Municipal provision of public toilets in American cities, and their effect on access to public space by various user groups

Authors: Naomi Adiv*, Portland State University
Topics: Urban Geography, Water Resources and Hydrology, Cultural and Political Ecology
Keywords: toilets, public space, hydrosocial, water
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Endymion, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


American cities are, at best, uneven in provision of toilets in public spaces. Recent studies have discussed how bathrooms establish and enforce social norms of gender, sexuality, privacy, and cleanliness (Barcan, 2005; Blumenthal, 2014, George, 2008; Penner, 2012). This paper, however, considers how the public toilet operates as part of the complex that makes up municipal public space in North American cities, and how toilet provision has restricted or allowed different kinds of individuals to enter into spaces that putatively offer universal access.

Using Portland, OR and Seattle, WA as cases, this paper will examine municipal provision of public toilets beginning in the early 20th century, their subsequent decommissioning beginning in the 1960s, and the current state of affairs, including widespread use of library toilets, and re-installation of outdoor toilets in public squares. I consider how the water and sewerage systems of toilets have a social life in public space that – like many public amenities – can be transferred from state to private control, and modes in between.

Barcan, R. (2005). Dirty Spaces: Communication and Contamination in Men's Public Toilets.
Journal of International Women's Studies, 6(2), 7 - 23.
Blumenthal, D. (2014). Little Vast Rooms of Undoing: Exploring Identity and Embodiment
through Public Toilet Spaces. New York Rowman & Littlefield International.
George, R. (2008). The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It
Matters. New York: Metropolitan Books.
Penner, B. (2012). "We shall deal here with humble things": Pla

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