Kudos to the Salem women who are working to get portable toilets with an artistic flair installed in the downtown area. A story by Helen Caswell in the June 11 issue of Salem Weekly, "Let's get the pottie started!" tells the got-to-go tale.
A diverse group of women have an inspired solution to the problem of public defecation in the downtown Salem core. Their goal is to involve the community in a positive way and provide portable toilets, “arta potties,” decorated with unique Salem-inspired art, in the seven blocks of downtown.
They believe this approach, unique to the US, could serve as an inspiration to cities across the country that are facing the same problem, and make Salem a leader in successfully addressing it.
“This is a man-made crisis,” says Rebecca Courtney, curator at downtown’s Roger Yost Gallery and Vice President of QA Properties. “It is happening all across America, but we think that we in Salem have a fighting chance – unlike LA or San Francisco – because we have just seven blocks to take care of.”
Courtney, the engine that first fired the effort, began the journey several months ago when she noticed a rise in human feces in the nooks and crannies of downtown Salem. She has lived here 11 years and found the increase – due to larger numbers of people without homes having no facilities – a biohazard, an environmental hazard and bad for business.
In the next issue of Salem Weekly, which hit the streets today, there's a follow-up story by Caswell, "Homeless welcome porta-facilities." It has some encouraging news.
People who sleep in Salem parks and doorways, under bridges and under shrubs, are excited by the chance that seven new porta-potties may be installed in downtown Salem.
Word of the first of the projected new facilities, trucked in with fanfare June 18 and placed in the parking lot of the First Congregational Church of Christ (UCC) at Marion and Cottage, quickly spread to folks entering the Homeless Outreach and Advocacy Project (HOAP) on Church Street and to those all the way down in the "Skate Park," Marion Square Park near the Willamette River.
I'm all for installing portable toilets for homeless folks. I'm also very much in favor of having more permanent public toilet facilities for everybody in downtown Salem.
And elsewhere -- because it just seems like being able to go when you've got to go should be an inalienable right along with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
My dog has this right. She can pee or poop anywhere, anytime, without fear of being cited for public indecency. Us humans, though, have a much tougher time when nature calls if we're out and about.
In downtown Salem, as in other cities, it's possible to use the restroom in a coffee house or restaurant. But if you're not buying something in the establishment, it takes some chutzpah to waltz in and use the facilities -- with or without permission.
Travel writer Rick Steves gives tips along this line in "European Toilet Tricks to Know Before You Go."
Any place that serves food or drinks has a restroom. No restaurateur would label his WC so those on the street can see, but you can walk into nearly any restaurant or café, politely and confidently, and find a bathroom. Assume it’s somewhere in the back, either upstairs or downstairs. It’s easiest in large places that have outdoor seating — waiters will think you’re a customer just making a quick trip inside. Some call it rude; I call it survival.
If you feel like it, ask permission. Just smile, “Toilet?” I’m rarely turned down. American-type fast-food places are very common and usually have a decent and fairly accessible “public” restroom. Timid people buy a drink they don’t want in order to use the bathroom, but that’s generally unnecessary (although sometimes the secret bathroom door code is printed only on your receipt).
Why should it be so difficult, though, to find a freaking restroom in the middle of a modern city?
Urban planners make it really easy to park cars in downtown areas, but parking a human body in front of a toilet or urinal is considerably tougher.
Whenever my wife and I travel, we're deeply appreciative of towns that care enough about visitors and residents to offer clean, easy-to-find permanent public restrooms. For sure, this makes good economic sense.
Nothing says Welcome, stranger more eloquently than an attractive restroom. The town of Sisters in central Oregon is a great example. We visit Sisters frequently. It was great when public restrooms were built in the middle of the downtown shopping area.
This 2009 piece by Karen Hessen in the Oregonian, "Forest Grove needs public restrooms," makes some excellent points that Salem should take to heart. Public restrooms are a downtown business booster.
Excuse me sir, could you tell me where I can find the restroom?
Last night I attended the Venetian Theater located on Main Street in Hillsboro. While walking from my car to the theater I noticed a sign in the window of the Hillsboro Pharmacy and Fountain that read, "restrooms open to the public." I started thinking about how friendly and welcoming that sign was. Is there a business in Forest Grove that aggressively invites the public in to use their restrooms? The answer to that question is "no."
I have been a business owner and know that it is difficult enough to keep restrooms stocked and maintained for paying customers. Maybe it is unreasonable to expect businesses to make their restrooms available to the public. But there are no public restrooms in all of downtown Forest Grove.
I have a house in Seaside, Oregon. In Seaside there are two public restrooms, one at each end of the major business district on Broadway. There are several other public restrooms as well: one on 12th Avenue where crabbers hang their pots from the bridge, one at the end of 12th Avenue on the prom where people park their cars for clamming and other beach activities, one on the river near Avenue S, and one in the parking lot near the convention center. These restrooms are all open until midnight.
In the small town of Sisters, Oregon a public restroom is located in the parking lot of the central downtown shopping district. This restroom is a busy place.
So what do Seaside and Sisters have that Forest Grove needs? A vital downtown that attracts people to the businesses and restaurants in the downtown area. Perhaps the city of Forest Grove should look at building and maintaining public restrooms as a way of inviting and welcoming shoppers and diners to downtown. This, in addition to bringing new businesses into the central downtown core, could give a major boost to the economy of our downtown area.