The World's Alex Gallafent tells us about a plan from London's mayor to deal with the shortage of public toilets in the city.
This text below is a phonetic transcript of a radio story broadcast by PRI's THE WORLD. It has been created on deadline by a contractor for PRI. The transcript is included here to facilitate internet searches for audio content. Please report any transcribing errors to email@example.com. This transcript may not be in its final form, and it may be updated. Please be aware that the authoritative record of material distributed by PRI's THE WORLD is the program audio.
LISA MULLINS: Now to London, often considered one of the world's great cities. But one thing the British capital does not have in abundance are public bathrooms. This week, the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, launched a new program to change that. The World's Alex Gallafent has the story.
ALEX GALLAFENT: We Brits have something of a reputation for toilet humor. You know - oop! [Toilet flushing]. Hilarious. Well, Britain's ongoing love affair with its ablutions shows no sign of abating. Mayor Boris Johnson's idea is that in the absence of sufficient public bathrooms, private businesses in London should make their facilities available to needy passers-by. Now it's true, the number of public bathrooms in the British capital has fallen by 40 percent since 1999, prompting questions like this from tourists:
WOMAN 1: Do they have public toilets?
GALLAFENT: Yes is the answer, but only if you look hard enough. And remarkably, there exist among us those who do take a good hard look at this kind of thing. Joanne Bichard studies the design and placement of public bathrooms. She's a research fellow at London's Royal College of Art, an institution overlooking a park on one side and a cityscape on the other.
JOANNE BICHARD: You often find bits and pieces in this street of where people lack public facilities and are left with no choice but to find a little dark corner, and of course we're right opposite a park as well, so you never know what you might to find in there.
GALLAFENT: So let's not look.
BICHARD: People say to me "Well, how can you tell the difference?" And I'm like, "Well dogs don't usually--"
GALLAFENT: Oh please don't go there.
BICHARD: use a bit of tissue to cover it up afterwards...
GALLAFENT: Had-da-da-da-da-- that's enough, thank you very much. Anyway - the Boris Johnson public john plan calls for businesses to advertise their free facilities, using stickers on windows - big stickers.
BICHARD: I mean as long as it's a sticker that screams toilet, you know, then that's fine.
GALLAFENT: But altruism and business, as we all know, don't necessarily go together. I'll allow you to powder your nose, what with your fancy outfit and expensive shoes. But you with the mud-caked backpack, you will have to find another place to water the horses. So perhaps what's needed is a good, old-fashioned economic incentive, especially if, as it seems, London doesn't have the cash to simply build more bathrooms.
WOMAN 1: There's many, many tourists, so what do they have to do, go to a hotel or something?
GALLAFENT: Yes, exactly, go to a hotel, on the condition that you buy something from the souvenir gift shop while you're at it. A review of the current state of public bathrooms:
WOMAN 2: Smelly and not very nice at all.
GALLAFENT...translates into a new paradigm: the dirty or absent public bathroom as economic stimulus. Can't bear to use the public loo? Go to the pub instead, and buy a pint of warm beer while you're there. You spend a penny, they make a penny. That's the free market. For The World, This is Alex Gallafent.