Public Health

LA's Toilet Envy

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As a former resident of Los Angeles, I've come to love the Big Orange more and more with each passing year when I don't actually live there (that's meant unironically). Yet one of the weirdest things about LA is its massive inferiority complex–or complexes, actually. Not only does the City of Angels feel second-rate to New York but even to San Francisco, and a bunch of other crap towns around the world, too.

Hence, all sorts of yapping about how great the art museums are, the symphony, blah blah blah. As if LA could only be great to the degree it approached stuff that other cities already had a lock on.

And, at least while I was living there, the inferiority complex was one reason why LA absolutely, positively needed a subway system. Because, you know, you can't be a world city unless you waste billions of taxpayer dollars on an overfunded and underutilized subterranean railway.

The Los Angeles Times adds another chapter in LA's ongoing inferiority complex. The subject this time is LA's relative lack of high-quality public toilets:

Though the luxury public toilet has become a status symbol in cities around the world, in L.A. it's a slightly complicated tale—one of the city's efforts to create a more pedestrian-oriented life, but also a story about its bureaucratic struggles to achieve that goal….

L.A. is a little late in embracing luxury toilets.

Singapore, London and Athens have more than 500 of the APTs [automated public toilets] each—most installed in their city centers.

In some cities, the facilities have been tailored to the needs of the toilet-going public. Those that adorn Bukit Bintang, for example, a shopping district in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, give users the choice of using a squatting bowl or a sitting pan. A deputy prime minister attended the opening of one of the public toilets there.

Yeah, those squat-or-sit crappers have really put Kuala Lumpur on the map.

Go here to read a story of bureaucratic constipation.

Second-generation tip o' the pixel to To the People, which wryly notes that thanks to idiotic special interests, "Angelenos couldn't give a crap, even if they wanted to."

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  1. First off, NYC’s subway system doesn’t seem underutilized to me. Now, DC’s Metro? THAT’s underutilized. But NYC’s is jam-packed full even in non-peak hours. I can’t imagine trying to get around that city in this day and age without the subways.

    Second, I can’t, for the life of me, understand the logic behind public toilets in big cities. They can’t even keep the subway entrances moderately clean…can you imagine what a public shitter will look like 3 months after it opens? Nobody will want to go in there, not even the bums. Walking around manhattan last week, I would have given anything for a bathroom (we ended up going up to a friend’s office to use theirs), but when I thought briefly about the idea of having public toilets in Manhattan, I thought about the other public spaces such as the subway stations, and realized how scary that would be.

    And third, speaking of the homeless…what happens when it’s raining/snowing/freezing cold, and the homeless decide to use the bathrooms as their own little houses, and just lock themselves in? Kinda defeats the purpose.

  2. , you know, you can’t be a world city unless you waste billions of taxpayer dollars on an overfunded and underutilized subterranean railway.

    You forgot to add “in a city renown for eathquakes”.

  3. In San Francisco public toilets are called “the sidewalk.”

  4. Evan!
    NYC has attempted for years (at least since 1990) to install public toilets, always to be shot down by bureaucracy.

    It looks like NYC entered a deal with Cemusa, a Spanish advertising company, for a similar “street furniture” package but I don’t know if that is still a go.

    As for subways, NYC was built in the days before cars and it’s subway was operational before the first car hit the roadway. LA was built around the car culture, it has a great number of infrastructure problems, but I don’t think a subway will help in any measurable fashion.

  5. drug dealers and prostitutes…that the time limit on each person’s use of the toilet, usually 15 to 20 minutes, also limits such behavior.
    A person could get a lot done in 20 minutes.

  6. andronoid

    And how! Talk about a boondoggle–just check out Seattle’s high tech public toilets downtown.

    On the other hand, all the stuff that is done in those public toilets was being done in the open before, for everyone to view. So for that I guess, I should be grateful.

  7. I remember years ago reading that NYC requires all street level businesses to make toilets available free to the public. Is this no longer the case?

  8. Warren,

    Here in Manhattan the “Restroom for Customers Only!” sign is a common sight.

  9. I read an article once about the elaborate pay toilets in Turkey. Apparently some people were making good money by providing clean toilets in Turkish cities and charging people a premium to use them. If I remember correctly, there was even a scale model of the Taj Mahal that you could use (if it wasn’t that, it was some other famous building), and many of them had music piped in. Most of them had a free side that those who didn’t have money on them could use, but despite the free side, business was booming on the pay side.

    We don’t usually hear about Turkey as a model for anything, but it seems that if LA wants luxury toilets they should let the free market take care of it and invite a bunch of Turks to come over and show them how it’s done.

  10. We have a few toilets just like that in SF. Supposedly they are self-cleaning, but I’ve never investigated. The only people I’ve ever seen entering or exiting them clearly were either shooting up or conducting getting/giving blow jobs.

    On a related note, the grossest thing I’ve ever witnessed in the Tenderloin (aside from a hardcore homeless guy having the DTs) was the time I saw a transsexual prostitute entering a conventional porta-pottie with a john.

  11. Could someone explain to me when the LA downtown became such a wasteland? Was it the 60s? Is there a chronology out there? When I was living in LA and a friend of mine moved into a refurbished loft downtown, I used to visit him — and fear for my life as CHUD swarmed everywhere. Just wondering…

  12. Isn’t L.A.’s downtown undergoing a resurgence? It seems that since I left in about 1998, a lot of people have been moving back downtown.

  13. They can’t even keep the subway entrances moderately clean…can you imagine what a public shitter will look like 3 months after it opens?

    I thought the high-tech ones automatically washed themselves?

    As for graffiti prevention…we’ll, they would get cremated in NYC.

  14. I grew up in L.A. in the Sixties. Back then, downtown was a ghost town outside of weekday business hours, just like it was years later. As far as I know, L.A. always had numerous, widely-distributed gathering places.

  15. Jeeze Louise Nick,

    Now you’re shilling for Big Bad John!

  16. Hey! K.L. is a perfectly nice and fairly important city. Watch your anti-Malaysian remarks, buddy!

    The food is great there, too. Mmmmmm, satays and Coca-Cola with sugar.

    I was there in 1997 for an Internet Society meeting. Probably in the same hotel as al Qaeda, which apparently also met in K.L., the bastards. Anyway, I suppose things may have changed, with all of the hullabaloo about the Asian Tigers subsiding somewhat, but I enjoyed my visit thoroughly.

  17. Isn’t L.A.’s downtown undergoing a resurgence? It seems that since I left in about 1998, a lot of people have been moving back downtown.

    Yes, LA’s skid row, starting west of Main Street, and from about 15th street north to the 101 freeway (1st Street), has been renovated with many new luxury loft apartments. The skid row is still there but it has shrunk and is sliding east. The new population on skid row is mostly asian – US born and raised, generation 1 “yuppies”. Along with this new tax base, police have stepped up efforts to chase away drug dealers and prostitutes from the area.

  18. Was that “sitting pan” supposed to be “shitting pan”?
    And didn’t Don Quixote have one of those that doubled as a hat?

  19. I’ve got no brief about Kuala Lumpur, PL–I just don’t think its growth is related to public toilets.

  20. Nick,
    I live in Hollywood. Where did you live and what were the years?
    Sincerely,
    a three year subscriber to Reason and a buyer of two of Brian Doherty’s books in hardcover.

  21. How do you limit the use of the toilet to 15 minutes?

    Is it ready or not the doors spring wide open?

  22. Very well, Nick, I forgive you.

    While I was there, I walked all over the city, and once–I had forgotten this–I went to a public toilet outside of the Westernized zone I was staying in. It cost about 15 sen, I think (100 sen in a ringgit, 2.5 ringgits to the dollar at the time). Needless to say, the experience was one I’d rather not have had–nasty. I didn’t see any fancy, world-beating toilets while I was there, incidentally.

    On the flip side, I was blessed by a Hindu priest when I visited the Batu Caves.

  23. What is it about L.A. that only people who don’t live there actually like the town?

  24. Even though efforts have been made to improve the downtown, and some lofts and other buildings have been refurbished, there is no way it is a normal place that you can casually stroll around at night or whatever. My friends left because it was so creepy and they used to live in the old Jonathan Club building.

  25. Methinks you must have lived in the navel-gazing West Side, Nick. The part of town where people give a shit about other cities. Most of these people have moved to LA from somewhere else.

    The 10 million other people living in LA don’t give a shit about San Francisco or New York or Chicago. Filipino kids in Rowland heights? Salvadorans North Hollywood? Black people in Pomona? Anyone in the Inland Empire? None of these people are losing sleep because Athens has public toilets and LA does not.

    Besides, I’ve seen public facilities other places, and they’re always gross. Always.

    There’s a lot more to LA than the West Side. Or downtown.

    And yes, downtown is self-consciously rejuventating. Strangely enough, when you are walking around down there, it often smells like pee.

  26. Public toilets in L.A.?

    Never mind what they look like. Are they bulletproof?

  27. L.A.’s needs would be better served if someone started manufacturing car seats with built-in toilets and equipment for emptying them out at gas stations.

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