Time for Portland Parks to take toilets seriously

January 27, 2012

The cost-cutting recommendations of Portland Parks and Recreation’s Budget Advisory Committee call for 189 toilet closures    The proposal is for Parks to replace half the number of closed stalls with plastic portables while laying off the Parks Technicians who understand the social environment and perform many other duties besides cleaning restrooms and hauling away trash. (UPDATE: PP&R’s official budget reduction package of Jan 30 calls for same.)

Public hygiene lets us stay human.  Toilet availability is fundamental and closing public restrooms an affront.  Without access to basic hygiene many people are reluctant to use parks and will drive rather than walk or use transit.  Active living, healthy aging, childhood fitness and basic health are compromised.  And people without houses cannot even wash their faces before going to work or about their daily activities.

At the January 9 meeting with Commissioner Nick Fish and PP&R Director Mike Abbaté, PHLUSH offered to help in two areas.  First, in redesigning existing toilets so they are safe and manageable.  Second, in introducing composting toilets by drawing on the expertise of our members and partners in the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance.  How is it possible that in Portland’s 11,000 acres of parkland there is not a single composting toilet?

As Commissioner Fish submits PP&R’s budget request to the Mayor and Council on Monday, January 30, one hopes that suggestions proffered by community members (see more below) have been acknowledged.  Later the same day, Laborers 483, which represents the employees facing layoffs, has organized a 3 pm Rally followed by a Forum to Protect Portland’s Future at 4 pm at the Matt Dishman Community Center where impacts of the budget cuts will be discussed.

Meanwhile, the Water Bureau continues to get national and international recognition for the Portland Loo and prepares to open Loo #5.  Water gets it.  Parks doesn’t.  Toilet users need to come out and say so.  An opportunity is the First Flush of the new Loo – with its spectacularly colorful door designed by young artists from the nearby Emerson School – at 1 pm Tuesday, January 31st  on the corner of NW Couch at 8th Avenue.

NOTE:  Below is a sampling of comments about toilet availability left on OPB’s Think Out Loud blog following Dave Miller’s January 11th interview with Mike Abbaté.

  • replacing bathrooms by portapotties is a blow to the heart of how Portland lives, and what Portland is to its citizens and its visitors. 
  • I expect that of all annual park users the vast majority are passive users, i.e., people who use the playgrounds, picnic, enjoy the gardens, go for a walk as opposed to participating in a structured recreation program, use pools or other community center activities. By closing restrooms, reducing trash pick up, reducing landscape maintenance you will degrade the parks experience for the largest portion of park users.
  • The Park’s service math is wrong. If the equation is number served… and they are taking that number from those registering for classes or services, the math is wrong. I use the facility and don’t register for services. It is our only walking route in the area that has a public facility
  • Surely keeping the parks clean and sanitary is an essential service that should be fully funded before less essential services. Also before new parks are developed we ought to be sure we can adequately maintain what we have.
  • Cut management. There is no need to cut services. You can also cut some of the 3200 part-time and seasonal employees.
  • ..Parks Maintenance Techs only spend a small amount of time removing trash and cleaning restrooms. There is a list of 100 other things that a Parks Maintenance Tech is responsible for…irrigation, turf, play structures, safety issues and on and on.
  • convert many of the restrooms to run on solar power and use filtered rainwater for the sink, toilets and urinals. 
  • When I use a public bathroom, I am grateful that we have organized ourselves as a culture to take care of this basic need. Portapotties are temporary. They are never pleasant.

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Our Mission Through education and advocacy, PHLUSH helps local governments and citizen groups to provide equitable public restroom availability and to prepare for a pipe-breaking seismic event with appropriate ecological toilet systems.

Our Vision Toilet availability is a human right and well-designed sanitation systems restore health to our cities, our waters and our soils.

Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human (PHLUSH) was founded in Portland, Oregon and today collaborates with groups across North America.

PHLUSH is a member of the World Toilet Organization and a partner in the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance.

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