Like a chipotle pork quesadilla, World Toilet Day, a U.N.-sanctioned event dedicated to raising the volume on the dialogue surrounding the pressing need for safe and accessible means of sanitation in developing parts of the world, snuck up on me again this year.
Also a day to pay respects to our own commodes and learn catchy new songs, the theme of this year’s World Toilet Day was “Equality, Dignity and the Link Between Gender-Based Violence and Sanitation,” a theme revolving around, in the words of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, our “moral imperative to end open defecation and a duty to ensure women and girls are not at risk of assault and rape simply because they lack a sanitation facility.”
It’s all heavy — and hugely important — stuff but, as mentioned, not without a lighthearted, loo-loving side. And so, on Nov. 19, founding day of the World Toilet Organization, restroom cleaning supply company Cintas decided to release the results of its 13th annual America’s Best Restroom Contest.
With past winners that include the historic Varsity Theater in Minneapolis (2013), Chicago’s Field Museum (2011) and an establishment in Fairfield, Ohio, called Jungle Jim’s International Market (2007), this year’s contest, once again, sought to honor the most magnificent (non-residential) establishment in which to excuse oneself to go see a man about a horse.
With a focus on both hygiene and aesthetics, nominees, whittled down to a group of 10 esteemed finalists (“the top 10 places to go when you’ve got to go”), were judged on criteria including cleanliness, visual appeal, functionality, innovation and “unique design developments.”
This year’s batch of top contenders were a fierce bunch of facilities at locations including a Mexican restaurant in Washington, D.C., and the American Girl store in Chicago where you'll find kid-sized sinks and doll holders in the bathroom stalls. I repeat, doll holders in bathroom stalls.
However, following an online voting period that kicked off in September, it was decided by the Internet-using public that a botanical garden located an hour outside of Philadelphia, Longwood Gardens, can claim bragging rights as having the most distinctive lavatories in all the land.
Yes, a storied botanical garden — established in the early 1900s by industrialist Pierre S. du Pont, the 1,000-plus-acre public garden in Chester County is among the most celebrated and visited in the country — where highlights include a a 4-acre conservatory, a vast orchid collection and synchronized fountain shows is also home to 2014’s number one, if you will, restroom.
Quite the honor.
It makes perfect sense that a place overflowing with natural beauty is also a fabulous place to respond to nature’s call. Combined with a fair amount of walking, the fragrant smells, the vivid colors, and the sounds of numerous water features of Longwood Gardens are sure to prompt a trip to the john.
And what a john it is.
An attraction within its own right, the 17 individual restrooms — glass-roofed subterranean “restroom pods” — at East Conservatory Plaza are home to, what was when it debuted in 2010, the largest living wall in North America — a lush, 47,000-fern and sub-tropical plant-strong installation that hugs the curvaceous restroom corridor.
Designed by acclaimed British landscape architect Kim Wilkie, the restroom-abutting “ferny glen” stands 14-feet high and spans 300 feet with a total surface area of the 3,590-square-feet. Do check out this fascinating pest management-themed blog post penned by former Longwood Gardens entomologist Dr. Casey Sclar about the creation of the show-stopping wall.
Says Marnie Conley, Longwood Gardens’ head of marketing, in a press release announcing the win: "The wall has become a ‘must-see’ destination for our guests, many of whom may have never seen a green wall before and are curious about how we care for it. It’s the only restroom with its own docents!”
In addition to the green wall, the restrooms at the East Conservatory Plaza, like the rest of Longwood Gardens, make environmental sustainability a top priority. Described as “naturally lit lavatory cabinets hidden within the landform,” the underground restrooms are naturally insulated and require minimal artificial lighting. While it’s unknown what exact type of fixtures are found in the restrooms, one would assume that they’re of the water-efficient variety. Water used in restrooms and other facilities on the Longwood campus is treated and used in the irrigation of non-edible crop fields.
A big congrats to Longwood Gardens on the win. Although I'm guessing the ladies and gents rooms are already spotless, Longwood will receive a $2,500 credit to spend on Cintas restroom cleaning supplies (wet mops galore!).
It’s also worth noting that simultaneous to America's Best Restroom Contest, Cintas also held a Canada's Best Restroom Contest. Shaw Club Hotel & Spa in Ontario beat out finalists such as the Vancouver Airport and the Calgary Zoo for the top 2014 spot.
Have you done business inside of Longwood Gardens' glorious and green restrooms?
Related on MNN:
- San Francisco experiments with planter-based public pee stations
- Detroit Metro Airport now has $75,000 restroom for dogs
- North America's largest living wall adds sizable splash of green to Canadian mall