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Katherine

Katherine Webber

Year of Award: 2018 Award State: Queensland Transport And Infrastructure > Urban Planning And Design
The Rodney Warmington Churchill Fellowship to increase accessibility to public toilets by researching taboos, design, policy and legal barriers - Netherlands, Germany, UK, USA, Canada
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Conclusions and Recommendations:

SECTION 1 provides a snapshot of toilet user experiences, indicating the diversity of needs to be addressed in the provision of public toilets. Toilet experiences can illicit relief, fear, frustration, disgust or embarrassment. The importance of single-gender toilets was promoted by some to ensure safety, prevent period shaming and bullying. Yet for other individuals and groups the removal of gendered spaces will increase inclusivity, use and safety. Design alone cannot address the needs of all toilet users and needs to be supported with a conversation about social norms, inclusion, use, safety and acceptance.

Recommendations:

  • 1.1 Develop processes to ensure community input into public toilet location and design to ensure public toilets are meeting identified community needs, including those of minority groups.
  • 1.2 Explore community dialogue mechanisms to support conversations around public toilets and user experiences to build empathy.
  • 1.3 Further research on the provision of sex or gendered segregated spaces, perceptions of safety, inclusion, exclusion and religious requirements and what other mechanisms are required to support de-gendered inclusive and safe spaces.

SECTION 2 covers examples of policy, legislation, standards and strategy in relation to public toilets. A commonality across each of the places I visited was that there was no legislative requirement for government to provide toilets in public spaces. A consequence of the lack of legislative requirement for the provision of toilets is the varying levels of coverage and the reduction in provision. Yet, the provision of public toilets is strongly linked to achieving both human rights and anti-discrimination legislation, as well as supporting tourism, transport, public health and physical exercise strategies. Policy and legislation can encourage and support a change in social norms surrounding toilet use. In both the Portland and New York City examples it was important to have leadership from the top and clear communication indicating what the new social norms were expected to be. However, with the development of new legislation there needs to be caution to ensure that it does not criminalise vulnerable populations or increase vulnerability.

Recommendations:

  • 2.1 Develop a legislative requirement for the provision of public toilets across local government areas, open space and transport networks, which includes: a) Acknowledgement that access to toilets is a basic human right and supports inclusion and dignity, b) An audit of the existing provision of public toilets, c) Community engagement to determine local needs. 
  • 2.2 Review and revision of existing building and amenity standards and specifications to meet changing community standards with respect to advancement in accessibility technology, gender inclusion and other community generated issues. 
  • 2.3 Chambers of commerce and tourism agencies to explore strategies to increase the promotion of toilet location, features and opening hours, to support the achievement of economic development and tourism strategies. 
  • 2.4 Public toilet provision for transport users to be included in all transport network plans

SECTION 3 demonstrates that public toilets cannot be separated from the infrastructure they rely on for their effective use. The infrastructure that supports sewerage and public toilets varies across cities and countries, however it needs to be robust against local environmental elements such as weather, climate change and natural disasters. Toilet design, operation and maintenance should be responsive to the location, local conditions and operational structure. Gender empowerment and youth engagement can also be addressed through programs that support maintaining infrastructure.

Recommendations: 

  • 3.1 New and existing infrastructure should be fortified against climate change and natural disasters. 
  • 3.2 Explore scaling up alternative technologies to address environmental sustainability and reduction of water use. 
  • 3.3 Develop locally responsive toilet designs, operation and maintenance protocols. 
  • 3.4 Include gender and youth focus in infrastructure programs. 

SECTION 4 explores examples of public toilet design from the countries I visited. The lived experience and assumptions of designers can lead to exclusion through design, which can have gendered, ability and sexuality impacts and implications. However, design can remedy exclusion through inclusive design methods, which can create solutions that work for many users. The design of public toilets can be responsive to the different needs of the day and night-time economy, rural and urban areas, and different users. Being able to access information about which toilets are available and when, can assist those who need to plan before leaving home. Apps and signage can be useful tools to locate toilets, however the information must be kept up to date. It can be efficient if one organisation is responsible for the data collection. 

Recommendations: 

  • 4.1 New toilets and upgrades to existing toilet infrastructure should consider public toilet design principles (see text box). 
  • 4.2 Develop Australia-wide desired standards of service for provision in specific locations such as town centres, parks, recreation areas. 

SECTION 5 identifies some of the organisations and professions involved in public toilet provision, accessibility, inclusion and operations. With financial austerity impacting government budgets it is important to support industry and other groups in the provision and promotion of accessible and inclusive public toilets. Without a legislative requirement ensuring their provision, toilets can easily be perceived as an on-going expense and liability contributing to their closure. However, it is important that public toilets are seen as investment in social inclusion. When people can easily use a space, they will enjoy it and relax potentially spending more time and more money, which also contributes to an increase in social connections and reduction in isolation.

Recommendations:

  • 5.1 Acknowledge the complementary and essential roles that different professions and community groups have in the provision, operation and maintenance of public toilets; and explore opportunities for collaboration and information sharing
  • 5.2 Explore the opportunities to formalise public access to toilets provided by businesses and industry
  • 5.3 Support community groups, academics and research institutions to identify local needs to ensure that the limited resources for toilet provision, design and maintenance are being applied where they are most needed
  • 5.4 Explore further research in Australia on discrimination, access, inclusion and personal experiences of public toilet use, similar to the Around the Toilet model.

The final section of the report focuses on menstrual health and toilets and is written to be a standalone section of the report. As part of the Fellowship I intentionally arranged to meet with organisations and individuals who are addressing the stigma and taboo around menstruation through education, advocacy, building networks and creative pursuits. Menstruation has an important intersection with public toilets as approximately 26% of the Australia population is menstruating and menstruation is an activity that intersects with toilets, yet it may not be designed or well catered for. Recommendations have been developed for community engagement and education, access to menstrual products, toilet design, policy and legislation and research. 


Keywords: Toilets, inclusion, accessibility, infrastructure, planning, design, public space, menstruation, partnerships. policy, legislation

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