As the somewhat uncharacteristic acceptance of a Walmart — the upcoming store’s massive vegetative roof seems to have sealed the deal — proves, the city of Portland, Ore. has a knack for making the best of potentially controversial, displeasing, and unsightly projects that have failed or been met with opposition in other cities. And although an entirely different creature in scope and purpose than a massive big box retailer, this also applies to public restrooms.
As reported by the Los Angeles Times, in a city where "just about everything is greener, hipper, and more carbon neutral," a network of six solar-powered Portland Loo public toilets have earned themselves their own Facebook page, a massive amount of positive press, and a legion of loo-loving admirers. Plus, a handful of other cities including Houston, Baltimore, Vancouver, B.C., San Diego, and Seattle are looking to buy and install their very own smartly designed, Portland-style privies (a Portland Loo was actually exported to Victoria, B.C. back in November). "I'm convinced Portland is the only city in the U.S., and maybe the world, that celebrates the opening of bathrooms," City Commissioner Randy Leonard tells the Times.
So what exactly makes Portland's network of highly celebrated, open 24/7 public potties work? You’d think Portlanders love ‘em because they’re plush and cozy with an interior that resembles a room at the Ace Hotel, but that’s not the case at all. To discourage bathing, hair washing, laundering, drug-dealing, naughty trysts, and other unsavory activities that have long plagued public toilets in other cities, a sink for hand-washing is located on the exterior of the 6-foot-by-10.5-foot stainless steel structures and their minimalist, graffiti-proof interiors aren't exactly all that welcoming. There are no mirrors or paper towels and there certainly isn't any Kenny G being piped in through speakers. The toilet itself is of “prison-grade” quality.
Most importantly, Curtis Banger's "peekaboo" Portland Loo design only offers semi-privacy due to louvered panels that rise from foot to knee level and then again above head level. In the words of the Times, the angled louvers not only allow for natural light, but make "activity inside somewhat visible, and audible, to passersby." The toilets are also installed on sidewalks in highly trafficked areas around the city, which not only translates to convenience, but further prevents folks from moving on in. “The sounds of people chatting and laughing outside waft in disconcertingly between the slats. One feels the urge to act quickly and quietly, and move on,” describes Kim Murphy for the Times. Portland Loos are also cleaned twice a day by actual humans, a departure from the self-cleaning units found in other cities. Again, this further discourages the aforementioned unsavory activities while preventing trash build-up.
Project spokeswomen Anne Hill describes another advantage of the design: “As you approach a Loo, you can see what's happening inside. If it's 2 in the morning and there's two sets of feet in the Loo, law enforcement has cause to knock on the door and say, 'Why are there two sets of feet in the Loo? Two of those feet need to come out.'"
Each ADA-accessible Portland Loo costs around $6,000 to install and $1,200 a month to maintain. Naturally, they're fabricated in Portland.
More on Portland's latest pride and joy over at the L.A. Times. The Portland Loo Facebook page is also worth checking if only for some rather choice status updates. Some examples: "Chuck Norris does not have to flush the toilet, he scares the crap out of it!" "We can see your trunk, but not your junk. Bwahahaha." A public toilet with a sense of humor ... I like that.