Category Archives: Uncategorized

Making Some Head Way ;)

Over the past weeks, I have met with Councillors Carra and Wooley and Mayor Nenshi and they all expressed support for making facilities more accessible to  citizens and visitors alike. After their initial smile and chuckle when I raised this as a barrier to Calgary becoming a truly great city they stopped and realized that there is a serious issue, maybe a human rights violation in how we think and talk and plan public restrooms.

I don’t want to go down the human rights path because it raises all kinds of spectres but rather work with the City and citizens and businesses to just do what is right.

I was interviewed this morning on “Mornings with Danielle Smith”  (thanks @ABDanielleSmith )who I toured through the East Village during the Stampede. She smiled when we initially talked about the initiative but as you can see from her post and the interview, she has given it a lot of thought.

Take a listen and read here.

Bravo to San Antonio

Calgary can take a page from this little New Mexico city. Congratulations to Portland Loo for another convert.

“When you think about our downtown and how many people are here and what we spend on keeping the streets clean and safe, then you can see that this is a real investment,” says, Councilman Roberto Trevino.

Trevino says its money well spent to give citizens and tourists a safer and cleaner place to go to the restroom.”


Complete story here

Sunshine and Good Times

With summer officially kicking of on 12 days, we have been enjoying some great summer weather for the past week. Temperatures around +30 with bright sunshine brings out cyclists, walkers, partiers, moms and kids. The Lilac Festival was crowded on Sunday and the bike paths and cycle track had some minor congestion. There were a couple times, we needed to stop to allow cross traffic from St Patrick’s Island bridge to connect to the River Pathway.

I was encouraged to see that the CMLC east Village restrooms were open and heavily used but as you might expect, two facilities for 75,000 travellers is impossible to manage. I am sure that the Simmons Building and Eau Claire Market drew lots of folks who needed a place to go, if they knew the bathrooms were there and that there is very little stigma for using these private washrooms. Wayfinding is needed for our public washrooms and if we are going to rely on private augmentation signage to those facilities is needed as well.

If you are enjoying East Village and the River Walk, know that there are facilities on the east end of St Patrick’s Island that are well marked and there is no signage directing you to the island (note, it is impossible to access St. Patrick’s Island on foot or bike because of flood prevention work – until 2017).

If you come here and need a place to go, checkout the suggestions above – Eau Claire market (near Prince’s Island, Simmons Building near St Patrick’s Bridge, CMLC high tech facilities in East Village on the River Path near the East Village Experience Centre and St Patrick’s Island)

If you discover additional, accessible, friendly washrooms along the pathways or in a reasonable distance, post them in comments and we will try get them up on the Sit or Squat app.

Help People who Come Here, Have a Place to Go



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Portland is Getting it Right

Portland, OR has begun to take many social issues seriously. They have redefined walkability, connected multi modes of transit through an app, and started difficult conversations about consumption, waste and dying. They have also tackled, or begun tackling, public washrooms. Portland Loos are simple, sturdy flush toilet kiosks located in public areas. The loos are free to the public and accessible around the clock every day of the year. Portland Loos give the community clean, safe, and environmentally-friendly restroom facilities.

Portland Loo

Since 2011, Portland has been working to bring access, dignity and practicality to an important human rights issue.

This article from CityLab from early 2012 explains the issue and the solution better than I could.

Why Portland’s Public Toilets Succeeded Where Others Failed

The Portland Loo’s defense-first design has freed it from becoming a beaten-down haven for illegal activity

Image City of Portland
City of Portland

For the residents of Portland, Ore., taking a whiz in a public toilet is not just a matter of necessity. It’s an act of civic pride.

That’s because the city is home to the Portland Loo, a unique, patented outdoor bathroom that inspires such worship in its fanbase you’d think that Steve Jobs himself had designed it. This adoration comes despite the fact that the 24-hour loo was built to be as inhospitable as possible. This toilet does not want to be loved, but in Portland, it is No. 1 (and, presumably, sometimes No. 2 as well).

The soulless receptacle for bodily waste has its own blog, Twitter account and Facebook page. When a loo hater set one ablaze last June, Facebook denizens flocked to its defense. “The Portland Loos rock! What other city can boast public restrooms that are fire proof. ;)” wrote Laura Mears, while Charlie Clint chimed in with, “I’m always sending someone to use one of these – and it’s great to hear how sturdy they are! (woo hoo).”

A Yelp review of a new loo at Jamison Square, titled “Epic win!,” is flush with love. “I plan on dropping a mean deuce in that thing ASAP,” wrote Andrew C.

On Jan. 31, Portland officials will christen the city’s fifth loo, at NW Couch St. and 8th Ave., with an inaugural flush. With inspirational artwork furnished by students at the nearby Emerson elementary school, it could be the most popular yet. But how did these sleek compartments of metal and plastic, which may smell slightly of urine, become a cult hit among Portland’s bathroom aficionados?

Simple: They’re not as crappy as other cities’ toilets.

Take, for instance, San Francisco’s self-cleaning outdoor bathrooms. They’ve been plagued with maintenance problems since they were installed in 1995. Some don’t work and others have odors that are rumored to rival that of a week-dead buffalo.

Then there’s Seattle’s disastrous deployment of automatic lavatories. The city would have been better feeding the $5 million it paid for them down the swirling gullet of a Starbucks commode. The design of the john allowed anybody to lock the door and turn it into their own private fiefdom.

With trash piling up on the floor, the self-cleaning mechanisms became useless. By the end of their run, in 2008, even drug addicts had stopped using Seattle’s toilets. They eventually wound up at bargain-level prices on eBay.

When Portland’s pols decided to try their own sidewalk-restroom experiment, they first surveyed the smoking rubble of the West Coast’s other outhouses and took careful note.

“We really looked at Seattle as what not to do,” says Anna DiBenedetto, a staff assistant to city commissioner Randy Leonard, the spiritual godfather of the Portland Loo. “We think it was the design that was the fatal flaw. Trying to be comfortable and private makes people feel more empowered to do the illegal activities that people do in public toilets.”

So in 2006, Commissioner Leonard convened an ultra-elite Loo Squad, featuring ace toilet designer Curtis Banger, to create the perfect privy of the people. The group worked nonstop – although probably not while on the can, as perfect as that would be – to forge an interior design that would make tinklers want to get out of there as fast as humanly possible.

Two years later, their hard work paid off in the world’s first Portland Loo, located in the Old Town-Chinatown neighborhood. Despite its location right next to a Greyhound Bus Station, it remains standing to this day:

Image via Google Maps

The toilet’s durability can be chalked up to its defense-first design. “I think one thing we have ahead of other toilet designs is that we’ve learned people like to do nefarious things” to public lavatories, says DiBenedetto. So the Portland Loo includes a variety of bells and whistles meant to keep in check the most degenerate of bathroom users:

No running water inside: “Some people, if they’re homeless, use a sink to wash their laundry,” says DiBenedetto. So there’s no sink, just a spigot on the outside that pours cold water.

No mirror: People tend to smash mirrors. Perhaps even more frequently if there’s no running water within reach.

Bars at the top and bottom of the structure: It may make the water closet look like a cage for a gorilla, but these apertures have critical importance. Cops can peep in near the ground to make sure there’s no more than one set of feet inside. The openings also help sound flow freely, letting pedestrians hear the grunts and splashes of the person inside and the person inside hear the footsteps and conversation of pedestrians. Nobody wants to stick around such a toilet for long.

A graffiti-proof coating: No one will be tagging this latrine.

Walls and doors made from heavy-gauge stainless steel: “It’s built with the idea that somebody could take a bat to it,” DiBenedetto says. “And if they did damage it, we could replace that part.”

So far, the most popular activity for malcontents is jamming the flush button, perhaps using some sort of special tool.

These PSYOP-worthy features are outlined in U.S. Patent No. D622,408 S, which Leonard received in the summer of 2010. The toilet has the dubious honor of being the city of Portland’s first patent.

For the first loo, the city paid an estimated $140,000. The price of subsequent ones has gone down to about $90,000*, with an annual maintenance fee of $12,000 per commode. Portland recently sold one of its loos to Victoria in British Columbia for just under $100,000. It hopes to vend more when the economy recovers.

The prospect of Portland Loos appearing on street corners all across America is exciting to DiBenedetto, who’s not just a city-paid promoter of the throne, but a happy user, too.

“Whenever I have friends in the car and we pass by one, it’s like, ‘There’s the loo!'” she says. “It’s cold and really strange inside, and there’s a sense of, ‘Wow, I’m really close to the sidewalk and people can hear me peeing,’ but it’s really cool.”






Sit or Squat

Whether you live in Calgary or almost anywhere else in North America, you can make a first step at creating accessible public washrooms in your city. The map app ” Sit or Squat” (available at App Store and Google Play) from is a great place to start.

While not all the locations are necessarily ‘friendly’ to all citizens is a question but mothers with children and seniors should feel welcome at any of the locations. You can help build a robust map for your city by downloading and adding public facilities to the database. It all seems quite easy to navigate and I have snooped my familiar haunts and the current map seems accurate.


If you take a look at Calgary, zoom in on the amazing river pathway system and especially  East Village. From well south of the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary to well beyond the Pumphouse Theatre there are zero (0) facilities listed. This is the big goal of the YYC Public Loo project – to ensure that our city does what all great cities have and build all season, public washrooms and build a network of citizen supportive businesses who welcome everyone who needs to go.

Next – The GoHere campaign by Crohn’s and Colitis.


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Great Cities

Have you ever found yourself walking, riding or even driving between two points and an imperative biological urge arises? Is the expression ” hold the phone and get a stone” familiar? I am not sure but it seems that as I get older the pressure and urgency and frequency has increased. I know that when I am with young children, the impulse seems to arrive out of nowhere and they “NEED TO GO, NOW”.

In many great cities that we have visited, public facilities are never more than 500 meters apart. They are well maintained, relatively clean and serve as a ‘port in the storm’ for the immediate and compelling ‘perfectly human’ need. Great cities know that when you have to go the pressing need is preoccupying. When you are supposed to be focused on the remarkable scenery, amazing architecture, beautiful landscape and thinking about how much you love this place – the charm is tarnished by unbearable forces bearing down on your urethra.

I know all the available private facilities in a 2 mile radius of the core and am confident enough to enter and relieve myself without feeling additional purchase pressure (McPee) but not everyone has a map app running in their head. Mothers with children, seniors exploring their city, visitors need facilities and waymaking to feel confident in their urban adventure.

Calgary wants to be a great city, in the list of other great cities. We are growing up and out. At 1.2 million residents we are learning together about diversity, walkability, shared resources, diverse economic engines, arts and culture and the importance of design in justice issues but we don’t talk about this important infrastructure. I am not sure if it is willful blindness or a bodily function paranoia but the loo is woefully absent in our planning and design. With nearly 800 kms of shared pathways, we should be planning for more than 800 facilities that are clean, safe and welcoming. In future posts I am going to explore a two pronged approach creating at great city that can say ” When you come here, we have a place for you to go”.


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