Britain marks 150 years of public toilets
By JILL LAWLESS-- The Associated Press
LONDON (AP) -- Proud of the past but embarrassed by the present, Britain marked the 150th anniversary of its public toilets Wednesday amid warnings the public convenience is disappearing from its streets.
Bearing the shield, helmet and trident of the national symbol Britannia, model Michelle Liebetrau laid a giant penny against the railings of a subterranean loo in central London, near the spot on Fleet Street where Britain's first public toilet opened in 1852.
Public toilets traditionally cost a penny to use, and "to spend a penny" became a common expression for going to the loo.
The historic Fleet Street toilet is now closed, and many others are following.
Forty-seven percent of public conveniences in England's cities have closed since 1995, according to the Audit Commission. Last year, there were 5,800 public toilets in England -- one for every 8,000 inhabitants.
"The number of public toilets in the U.K. is limited and declining, particularly for women, who have about half as much provision as men to start with," said Clara Greed, an academic from the University of the West of England who is studying public toilets.
"Yet it is men, not women, who have provoked a debate about inadequate provision because of the growing incidence of street urination."
Public toilets were introduced in the 19th century to stop the spread of disease through "public fouling," and many of London's Victorian loos are graceful structures -- tiled underground chambers encircled by iron fences and crowned with arches or pergolas.
Many are now padlocked and rusting, while others have found new life as cafes, flower shops, theaters and nightclubs.
"Public toilets are an important element of creating accessible, sustainable cities," Greed said, but "a lot of authorities take the view that they're too expensive and too much trouble" to maintain.
Greed said Britain's neglect of its toilet heritage contrasted with a "restroom revolution" in East Asia.
Singapore's government has declared clean public toilets a hallmark of a gracious society, and last year hosted a World Toilet Summit. The city of Suwon, South Korea, is so proud of its futuristic loos it bills itself as "a city with the most beautiful public toilet in the world."
The British Toilet Association lobbies for better bathrooms and its Loo of the Year awards recognize excellence in public conveniences.
Authorities in Westminster, the central London borough with the country's busiest public toilets -- the Leicester Square loo serves more than 1 million customers a year -- have devised ingenious ways to combat street urination.
The borough has set up open-air urinals in busy tourist areas and plans to introduce collapsible urinals, invented in The Netherlands, that can rise out of the sidewalk on Friday and Saturday nights.
Are they taking the pi$$ or just talking sh!t ?
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