'I'm Not Going to Lie: I Used to Smoke Crack in There'


The City of Seattle had this great idea a while back: Let's invest millions of dollars in free public toilets that open up with the push of a button and self-clean after each use, so that people don't have to, er, patronize a store in order to relieve themselves. But Seattle residents trashed the toilets, and now the city is closing its dilapidated, techno-riffic outhouses and selling them on eBay:

[T]he restrooms, installed in early 2004, had become so filthy, so overrun with drug abusers and prostitutes, that although use was free of charge, even some of the city's most destitute people refused to step inside them….

"I'm not going to lie: I used to smoke crack in there," said one homeless woman, Veronyka Cordner, nodding toward the toilet behind Pike Place Market. "But I won't even go inside that thing now. It's disgusting."

Why did the plan fail? For starters, the people who used the toilets—transients and druggies—didn't have to pay for them:

Seattle officials say the project here failed because the toilets…were placed in neighborhoods that already had many drug users and transients. Then there was the matter of cost: $1 million apiece over five years, which because of a local ordinance had to be borne entirely by taxpayers instead of advertisers.

I should probably check with reason's Ron Bailey on this, but I think Seattle scripted its own commons tragedy.