24 October 2008

The Times - Planners have turned our cities into toilets

The Times - Planners have turned our cities into toilets:
In Jo’burg, as soon as people leave their homes, criss-crossing the length and breadth of townships and suburbs, they do not have anywhere to go to the toilet. Work is the only place. But with 27 percent of people in Gauteng unemployed, many are job-seeking, passing empty hours or visiting friends. Hours pass in the public realm.

People are now accustomed to creating their own, impromptu urinals. They are desperate. Or they are totally habituated to it and may not bother to look for a toilet.

Since I retired, I rarely go downtown. But when I went to work by bus, there was a public toilet in Church Square in the centre of Pretoria. It's still there, admittedly not very well-maintained, but it works.

The problem in Johannesburg seems to be a worldwide one. A few years ago we visited the UK, and travelled around visiting friend and family and being tourists. In London, where i had worked several months as a bus driver 40 years before, one thing that was noticiable was the lack of public loos. Forty years ago you could buy The good loo guide in any book shop. There were loos at all the railway stations, and in many public places. If you wanted to go to the loo before a train journey, you could. But 40 years later, we couldn't find them. Some stations had a prefab plastic contraption with space for two people, and it cost a pound to enter them. That's about R15, where it used to cost a penny.

It seems that now public planners expect people to piss on the platform, or piss in the street.

I've been reading Samuel Pepys's diary, and it stirred up my interest in the period, so I've also been reading Ronald Hutton's The Restoration, which covers the period of the plague in 1665, and the great fire of London in 1666. One of the legacies of the Victorians was the idea of public sanitation -- that local authorities had the task of seeing that there were working drains and and public loos and other things for the prevention of the spread of disease. And Johannesburg, which was basically developed and planned as a Victorian city, got all these thing as soon as it was clear that it was becoming more than a temporary mining camp. Apartheid building regulations actually doubled the number of loos that had to be put in public buildings.

But in the 21st century, it seems we are expected to piss in the street.

And I suspect that neoliberalism is to blame.

1 comment:

Laura said...


I live in Grahamstown, in the Eastern Cape. I used to live in a street quite close to the city centre and people urinating (and worse!!) on our street and around our area was a real problem. I'm sure it still is - I just don't live there anymore to contend with people trying to relieve themselves in my front yard.

I actually used to feel quite sorry for people because I figured they must be desperate to be using the street! Especially people like street vendors, car guards, I thought they were just having to make a plan because there were no public toilets.

Until someone pointed out to me that there are public toilets in the city hall, which was only a block or two away from us. So I checked it out and went and used the city hall public toilets one day.

They are not great, but they are okay. And very central. And not busy at all...

So I lost sympathy for people who use the street!!


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