- Rick Bowmer/AP
If you’ve ever used a public toilet, you probably wish you held the urge until you got home.
They’re unclean, smelly, and often serve as de facto homes for homeless people.
Thankfully, the city of Portland, Oregon, has reinvented the staple facility of urban centers, festivals, and campgrounds. And the new public toilet only cost $250,000 to develop.
The Portland Loo isn’t the futuristic, self-cleaning bathroom you might imagine. A weathered-looking steel shell wraps around a single toilet bowl. There’s no sink or running water. Grates at the top and bottom of the structure allow onlookers to see in; though a “blind spot” prevents people from watching users do their business, Fast Company reports.
So what makes this loo so special?
The police, fire department, and maintenance crews in Portland worked together to engineer a public-use toilet that could be easily cleaned and maintained, while also preventing crime. (The toilet is manufactured by Madden Fabrication.)
Public bathrooms often double as dens for crime – places where drug users can shoot up in privacy and buy or sell merchandise. Their central location offers convenience for prostitution.
The Portland Loo’s slats, while reducing privacy, ensure police can see in if they suspect illegal activity. Blue lighting makes it difficult for heroin users to locate their veins and use inside. Even the paint supposedly repels graffiti.
- Rick Bowmer/AP
Fast Company reported in September that more than a dozen cities have installed Portland Loo facilities – 34 facilities in all. They cost almost $90,000 each.
The city of its birth, Portland, is home to eight of those bathrooms. The flagship toilet, located in the Old Town-Chinatown neighborhood, still stands eight years after it was installed.
A Portland Loo located in Victoria, British Columbia, won the vote for Canada’s best bathroom in 2012, CBC News reports. The city’s sanitation crew maintains it throughout the day.
But not everyone is on board. San Diego removed one of its Portland Loos after just 13 months. City officials told The San Diego Union-Tribune the restroom became a magnet for crime. The police saw a 130% increase in calls to the area around the Portland Loo, according to The Union-Tribune.
- Jeff Chiu/AP
The bathrooms are wheeled out four afternoons a week in the city’s Tenderloin neighborhood, and are accompanied by an attendant. Each station costs the city $100,000 annually, which is comparable to what San Diego spent maintaining its Portland Loo.
Is the Portland Loo any less smelly than the current public toilets on city streets? Probably not.
But it is an innovative solution to a seemingly universal problem.