Feature Article - November 2007
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Dirty Business

What Your Restrooms Say About Your Park

By Dana Carman

Toilet Talk

Restrooms aren't traditionally something people gather around to talk about.

In general, the dirty business of restrooms is reserved for those in the business of well, other people's business.

"I have a really crappy job," joked Kevin Mart, president of a prefabricated and onsite-constructed restrooms company. "But I love it."

He's not the only one. In 2001, the World Toilet Organization (WTO) was formed with the vision of achieving clean, safe, affordable, ecologically sound and sustainable sanitation for everyone. Each year, the WTO hosts the World Toilet Summit, which invites those from all countries and various industries dealing with restrooms and the various issues to attend. This year's conference, which takes place October 31 to November 3 in India, will focus on sanitation-oriented topics. Information on the World Toilet Organization can be found at www.worldtoilet.org and on the summit at www.worldtoiletsummit2007.org.

The American Restroom Association, a Baltimore-based nonprofit group advocating for clean, safe, well-designed restrooms, will be at the World Toilet Summit again this year. The organization was formed after Robert Brubaker, program manager, was working on a separate initiative to support pedestrian activities. As part of that project, he discovered public outcry regarding the lack of restrooms and started a public restroom initiative that got picked up by local media and then, while attending the World Toilet Summit, ABC World News picked up on the group and the rest, as they say, is restroom history.

The organization was six weeks old and had gotten the kind of publicity generally reserved for much more well-established advocacy groups. But this group's message stood out, and not just because of the delicate subject matter.

"We were the only people in America doing this," Brubaker said. The organization gets a lot of queries from the public regarding restrooms, so it has a "really good handle on what people want," Brubaker said, which is why the Web site has many resources, including a page for parks and recreation, to advise on how best to implement restroom facilities. To begin your education, visit www.americanrestroom.org.

For park users all over the country, restrooms are an issue, but particularly in San Francisco where the Neighborhood Parks Council (SFNPC) is a part of a Restroom Task Force along with the Recreation and Parks Department that created a survey to assess people's opinions on restrooms. In the first few months the survey was up, there were 500 responses, which, according to Isabel Wade, executive director of the SFNPC, shows that it's a very important topic to people. Results of the survey showed that San Francisco needs to work on cleanliness and availability of facilities, but the creation of the task force showed, more importantly, that talking about toilets is something people do want to do, if it's done right. On the SFNPC's Web site, you can find out more about the Restroom Task Force as well as an interesting slideshow featuring toilet art. Yes, there is such a thing (and some of it isn't half-bad). There's also information on a unique park reporting system that is also a joint project between the SFNPC and the Recreation and Parks Department called ParkScan (www.parkscan.org). For more, visit www.sfnpc.org.