Feature Article - November 2007
Find a printable version here

Dirty Business

What Your Restrooms Say About Your Park

By Dana Carman

Oh, Please Let it Be Open

The availability of the restrooms is another issue that lack of staffing affects. In San Francisco, availability also ranks high on the restroom survey as one of the big problems facing parks. The Park District of Chicago only offers facilities from Memorial Day through Labor Day in its parks. Robert Brubaker hears this complaint from people all over the country who are wondering the same thing about the public restrooms in their parks: Why can't we just get in to go to the bathroom?

Brubaker is the program manager for the American Restroom Association, a Baltimore-based nonprofit association advocating for the "availability of clean, safe, well designed public restrooms." According to the American Restroom Association, there is anecdotal evidence that people will shy away from certain physical activities if there are not restrooms available. Using the example of Chicago, some of those closed park restrooms fall along an 18-mile marked lakefront path used by many walkers, joggers and cyclists before Memorial Day and after Labor Day. In a 2002 study conducted by the ETC Institute of Kansas for Arlington County, Va., respondents were asked to pick three improvements they would most like to see in the parks/facilities they use most often. Drinking fountains, followed by year-round restrooms were the top two choices.

"Not having restrooms is keeping people out of parks," Brubaker said. And this, he feels, is very much an obstacle to getting people involved in fitness-related activities, which is especially bad given today's current state of obesity in adults and children.

He suggests that park managers survey their park users to find out how important bathrooms are to them. According to Brubaker, when people see "bathrooms" on a survey, it tends to rank high, but in his opinion, some don't like to mention it for various reasons, such as there's no money to build or buy a new facility, or those in charge don't want to deal with the various issues of maintenance. In those cases, the American Restroom Association's Web site (www.americanrestroom.org) offers various guidelines and suggestions to breaking down barriers toward offering good, clean restroom facilities.

"The whole issue of restroom facilities is a very big one for people," SFNPC's Wade said. "No business would hear over and over that people leave their facility because they don't have available toilets. A regular business would figure out how to deal with this."