Your Public right to a Public Toilet
"A nation is judged by its toilets, it's one of the first images tourists and visitors get and we should generally be ashamed in this country" stated Greed when discussing the case of the UK! Imagine what she would say about Beirut.
Did you ever walk anywhere or were driving and had to drive like a maniac to sneak into a coffee shop's toilet and exit shamefully? If you do not live in a 10 minute radius of any of your outings the chance is the answer to this question is yes. Where do you go and what do you do in Beirut when you need to use the toilet?
I decided to investigate this in one of our only public spaces in Beirut, the Corniche.
The case of Beirut’s Corniche
The Corniche is a seaside promenade offering visitors a view of the Mediterranean and the mountains. The Corniche a beautiful space that people in Lebanon can access and spend the day regardless of their economic backgrounds and their purchase ability. However this site lacks adequate public services that will facilitate your stay for longer than an hour.
On Sundays and holidays the Corniche is packed and let’s face it it’s the only place in Beirut where people can spend the day without paying for entrance, seats, parking … During the week the Corniche is also congested with passersby that spend an average of an hour walking, sitting, contemplating. Couples meet there and of course the joggers during sunrise and sunset fill the space. Families that try to provide their children with a space to spend some time outside their apartments also frequent the Corniche after sunset during the week and all day during the holidays and Sundays.
|Public toilet 1|
Toilets on the Corniche
So I decided to first ask two young women seated close to what I thought was the only public toilet in the area if they ever had the urge to use the toilet while on a visit. They looked up at me worried and thought I needed a toilet and said “oh I am so sorry but you should try to hold it in and if you are desperate there is a very dirty and smelly toilet just behind us in between the two streets.” I smiled nodded and thanked them.
I crossed the street to look into it. As I approached the small structure, I understood the look the two women gave me. First the smell of large volumes of old urine surrounding the space made me sick. The women's toilet was closed and the men’s open. I closed my nose and looked in. The toilets were dark and the walls were stained with human feces! I ran out for a breath of air and bumped into two men crossing the street. They screamed at me saying "don’t try to use this plus the man that usually ‘cleans’ this is hardly ever here." They advised me to go to the next one facing the Riyadeh stadium which is always cleaner.
|Public Toilet 1....I'm glad the trees didn't die from the stench... the womens toilet is locked|
Another public toilet on the Corniche! I was pleasantly surprised. As I walked towards it I stopped to ask a woman with a child about using public toilets and access to them. She looked at me and chuckled and said "we cannot stay here for more than an hour and then we rush home. My child does not know how to use the Arabic toilet plus there is only one toilet on all the Corniche so you can imagine the ques during the weekends." I smiled and continued my walk towards the second public toilet with high hopes.
Public toilet 2:
Two cab drivers and the municipality employee sat under the tree next to it. They were excited to talk to me.
The cab driver said that he has to plan his day of work around passing in front of this toilet so he can use it. He says it’s nice to wash your hands after using the toilet, plus have some privacy and this is the only place that offers this. Otherwise you will have to find some corner which is just shameful.
The man responsible for this toilet, X, complained that the municipality of Beirut decided to close the toilet on Sundays and holidays and so he isn’t paid for those days. What happens is that he is back on Monday and the area around the toilet is filled with pee and feces and because of the sun that dries it it is so hard to clean and leaves its marks! He is thinking of opening for free during these days as he says the sudden closure is a crime against humanity. "Imagine you are running towards a toilet and suddenly you find it closed! What can you do?!"
|Public toilet 2 includes a room for municipality employee on the side plus a mens toilet, womens toilet and 2 urinals and washbasins|
The municipality employee stated that the his toilet pod is used by about 10 people per hour during the week that includes drivers that park to use the toilet as well as the Corniche visitors. During the weekends, and especially on Sundays there are ques of people waiting with an average of 15 to 20 people per hour. The toilets access is for free and is cleaned regularly (sometimes more than once a day) and opens from the early morning till mid-night with three shifts for the guards/ care-takers.
The second cab driver said the municipality of Beirut after the war has had no regard to individuals that occupy the public sphere and these include people that drive from outside Beirut to work. He said he remembers that before the war he used to use the toilets under martyr square and a few others in the city. “They were bigger, better and more in quantity in each block. Now this toilet has one toilet for women, one for men and two urinals. The other one is mostly closed and unreliable and dirty and so I never try “
|Toilet 1 versus Toilet 2|
Hamra has no public toilets! There is very little understanding of the value of toilets in the public realm and very little information about policies that govern it. Yet studies have shown that areas that have public toilets attract more shoppers and affect the economy positively. People can stay longer in the area. Public toilets may be seen by the municipality as costly yet this can easily be solved by designing their external walls as advertising spaces.
Children, women, disabled people and elderly people feel the most anguish over the toilet drought. Many people are shy about cheekily using toilets in shops, restaurants, bars and pubs and feel forced to purchase something.
UK activists have termed the inability to travel freely due to inaccessible toilets as the “bladders leash” which Beirut clearly suffers from. People need toilets and the lack of them is a sad reflection of our governments that do not regard its citizens with respect.
|Toilets may be placed in between buildings especially in areas where set backs are forced by the building law|
Local authorities need to be obliged by law to provide access to toilets for free in intervals that vary and target both pedestrians and drivers alike. One bathroom compartment every 500 meters should be a minimum where the streets and pavement space isn't large enough to install more. What do you think?
I would like to thank Café Younes, Hamra in this case for my multiple emergency toilet visits.