UBC Graduate Research

Pissing in Public : The Role of Public Washrooms within the Context of a Neoliberal City Scoular, Emily Nadene


The role of public washrooms is excluded from civil discourse on public amenity provision within the City of Vancouver. The public washroom if ever included in a design, is considered an afterthought and its implementation are symptomatic of attitudes towards commercialisation of the city, consumer-as-citizen equivalence, and privatised-public space. This research highlights historical and contemporary conditions and neoliberal tools utilised by the City to establish a clear understanding of how space is created, maintained and how value emerges. The historic Comfort Stations’ current role, within the socially and economically diverse neighbourhood of the Downtown Eastside, is symptomatic of macro ideologies on the public washroom. Neoliberalism and its political rhetoric shape these ideologies to create a consumer-dependent right of access to basic public necessities. The definition of neoliberalism highlights dependence on rhetoric, laws and policies to changing the urban landscape, while critics suggest an active social-democratic process better reflects the right to the city. Local instances of neoliberalism emerge that stifle democratic and capitalist city building. These such instances include Business Improvement Associations, Community Amenity Contributions, Development Contribution Levies, Privately Owned Private Spaces, and Public-Private Partnerships. Contemporary precedents of public washrooms around the city express the shape that neoliberal autonomy of form and practices as detrimental to the public. As the future of public washrooms is contingent on renewal of long-term contracting with a private corporation this Graduate Project proposes that by examining neoliberal policies in the City of Vancouver, designers, developers, and the public can make informed decisions about need-based amenities such as washroom implementations. This proposal will be expressed as a set of guidelines for alley developments in conjunction with the Community Amenity Contribution, and subsequent design responses. By creating a transparent and straightforward guideline for public amenity production in alley spaces a more democratic process will be created that allow various user groups, designers, developers and planners to make economic, policy, and public decisions.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International