French perfume

Paris has, much to the chagrin of its residents, placed public urinals in historic locations. Would Parisians prefer a scenic, but smelly, city?

  • Published 9.09.18

Parisians cannot stop and smell the roses. Literally so, because in spite of living in the city of lights, love and romance, all that a deep breath is likely to earn a Parisian is a whiff of stale urine. Paris heads the list of European cities when it comes to public urination. In an effort to rid the celebrated city of this scourge, authorities have introduced what they call the "uritrottoir" - a combination of the French words for 'urinal' and 'sidewalk'. These are free-standing dry urinals that are meant to give people a place to relieve themselves other than a cobblestone street or a scenic bridge. This, of course, does not mean that people have to forgo the sights. The uritrottoirs have been placed in locations where one can survey the tranquil Seine or the exquisite Notre Dame cathedral while emptying one's bladder. What is more, this will be environment friendly as the urine will be collected in a bed of straw which will be composted and used in local farms and gardens.

But the Parisian fraternity has broken out with calls of liberty (from the ugly sight of these open urinals in front of historic landmarks) and equality (what about Parisian women who might be cursed with a small bladder?). Residents of these upscale localities think the uritrottoir is immodest - the lack of enclosure means anyone can see a person take a leak - and promotes exhibitionism. But where is the enclosure when a person is relieving himself on the streets? The latter accusation, though, is more significant in a city where women are fighting back against unwanted advances by men in the guise of 'romance'. At the same time, it cannot be denied that public urinals or toilets are a necessity, for both men and women. The debate about public toilets and aesthetics is not a new one. Several European cities have faced it before. Countries like Germany have come up with a solution. Under the 'Nice Toilet' scheme, the government pays a fee to businesses - restaurants, cafes, shops - to allow the public to use their facilities. This eliminates the need for the so-called eye-sores that are public restrooms which stick out from their surroundings. After all, not every nation can afford to construct the architectural marvels that are Tokyo's public toilets.

Germany's Nice Toilets have also done away with another headache for the authorities - the upkeep of public toilets. It is the cleaning and maintenance of public toilets that often ensures that a small price is attached to the use of these facilities. This price makes a large number of public restrooms inaccessible to certain sections of the population: the homeless, for instance. Women are thus clearly not the only constituency to escape the notice of civic planners. There are others, too, who remain invisible where public facilities are concerned: the physically challenged or the transgender community are examples. Any attempt to make toilets more inclusive - as was done in America where transgender persons were allowed to pick a restroom of the gender of their choosing - is met with strong protest against upending of the status quo. Maybe detractors should be made to take a look at - whiff of? - the broader picture. Surely no one would like to stop and smell the piss.