Let’s Potty Like It’s 1999

Portable Toilets in front of 36 Market Square, Knoxville, 2012

It’s not the sexiest downtown topic, but it’s an important one. Not nearly so many people ventured downtown in 1999, but just say you happened to do so – and I know some of you did. So many things about downtown Knoxville would have been different for you on this outing. Only a small percentage of the businesses lining the streets today had been imagined then. Many of the beautiful buildings we take for granted today lay in serious disrepair and in danger of being demolished. The hustle and bustle of a city street would have been largely absent.

One thing that would seem perfectly recognizable from each of the respective eras. If you decided to spend long enough in the downtown area that nature offered its persistent call, you would have had just as much trouble then finding relief as you might have today. In a way it might have been easier then: around any corner you might find semi-solitude to relieve yourself. But then, as now, unless you were a customer at an establishment you were out of luck.

Portable Toilet in front of New Union Shops, Knoxville, 2012

I’ve mentioned before that one of the very best things about living downtown is the opportunity to return home for a few minutes or a few hours before going out again. Whether it’s to eat lunch at home to save a few dollars or to take an afternoon nap before returning to a festival, it’s pretty sweet. The same applies for those moments when  a restroom is needed. If on the other hand you happen to be a family picnicking on Market Square you have a bit of a problem.

The city is pretty good about providing port-a-potties, which are ugly and smelly buy most often functional. I have some friends who won’t use them because of the general nastiness. They also really diminish the look and feel of what we’ve got going downtown. Let’s see, music – check, great food – check, art – check, large plastic containers of human waste – check and sometimes quadruple check.

As businesses increasingly fill the buildings lining downtown streets the city will have an increasingly difficult time placing the port-a-potties. They used to line Wall Avenue beside 37 Market Square – which now features outdoor seating for Blue Coast Burrito. They are now often placed in front of 36 Market Square, but I doubt Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt or the new residents of that building will appreciate the continued use of that space. The same is true for the side of the Arntein Building after Urban Outfitters or another business assumes that address.

I’m not saying this isn’t a problem in other places. I’ve had a hard time finding a public restroom in cities near and far. The worst is my favorite city in the world (so far): Paris. There is no place to use the restroom in that city. I came to question if there weren’t some significant biological differences between Americans and the French which allowed them to avoid restrooms entirely. I’m still researching the topic.

Public Restrooms in Sequoyah Hills, Knoxville, 2012

Public restrooms may be problematic. One might worry about assaults or homeless people spending the night inside their walls. Expense might be a concern and a suitable location would need to be secured. Can the city of Knoxville overcome such obstacles? Well, yes. Just drive to Sequoyah Hills.

That’s what I did recently to take a look at the public restrooms there. You can read more detail here, but basically, they were built a couple of years ago by the city for just under $150,000 and they were built to be eco-friendly and aesthetically consistent with the neighborhood. The city had services of architects and others in the community donate their services so that the project could stay within budget and be built to a higher standard than your average cement block baseball-field variety restroom.

Public Restrooms in Sequoyah Hills, Knoxville, 2012

Why can’t that happen downtown? Far more people come downtown to events and simply to spend a day than come to any park in the city. We have talented professionals downtown who would likely offer help. Would this not be a perfect use of some CBID money? This is something that needs to happen in the near future.


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