Some say that a society can be judged based on how it treats its worst off citizens. I think we can judge a society based on the conditions of their bathrooms. If this is our unit of measure society is in a poor state when judged against where it should be, but compared with the rest of the world one could conclude that we are better off than other nations. Indeed, China’s bathrooms consist of a mere hold in the ground separated by simple pieces of wood. India’s bathrooms are similar but exist in closed rooms at least.
I have a basic rubric for measuring the quality of public bathrooms. One measure of quality is the frequency of use of a restroom. Frequency of use tells us a couple of things about the state of a public restroom. One of the things frequency of use tells us is a bathroom’s popularity. Unlike high school, popularity when it comes to bathrooms serves a real purpose. Popularity with regards to bathrooms tells us something about bathroom traffic conditions and also tells us something about the quality of the bathroom in question.
One thing that surprises me about the state of public bathrooms is the lack of ambience. Granted I don’t expect a bathroom to have candles lit and potpourri, but many bathrooms lack simple necessities like light. It’s scary walking into any rom that lacks basic lighting, but walking into an area where your genitals are exposed is not the kind of thing that inspires confidence.
Part of the problem with the state of pubic bathrooms is that maintenance is considered such a low priority. Bathrooms are one of the number one areas that germs can congregate most prolifically, so one would think that maintenance would be a higher priority simply from a public sanitation perspective, but bathrooms continue to be viewed as low value, non-interactive social spheres.
I fear that as long as bathrooms are considered low value spheres of any kind that they will not get the requisite attention required of them. As long as bathrooms are given a low priority we will continue to have issues with the quality of our public bathrooms. There is thus an open question regarding what we can and should do about the state of our public bathrooms and it needs to be addressed.
One of the criticisms that is thrown out at bathroom patrons is that we are using a public area and therefore because the area is a communal one it should be above scrutiny. To the bathroom criticism haters I would have this to say: that which is not critiqued rarely gets better and if something is a public area we should demand more of it not hold it to a lesser standard. I would further argue that it is because we do not actively work to improve the conditions of public bathrooms that public bathrooms find themselves in the sorry state that they are in.
There are other metrics that should be used when evaluating a bathroom such as the type of people that tend to congregate in or around it. Good bathrooms are usually found in areas with a higher cost of living. The bathrooms where I live in Wales are often superior to those that you would find in Mukwonago or Palmyra. This isn’t because we are superior to the people of those respective cities, but rather we have better access to capital and because of that our businesses are able to provide better bathroom conditions for its patrons.
A common fallacy among novice bathroom critics is that the newer the building the higher the quality of the bathrooms. This is a misnomer for a number of different reasons. The first and most obvious is that simply because something is new that does not make it better. I look for areas that have been remodeled as they tend to update their bathrooms along with everything else. Another common bathroom mistake is that it’s all in appearance. I can’t tell you how many bathrooms I walk into that are clean looking in appearance, but once you use a urinal or toilet you find that the appearance is merely a façade hiding the dangers of an ill-kempt bathroom from the casual observer.
Knowing which bathrooms to choose, where, when, and why is key to a successful bathroom experience. I use the term bathroom experience deliberately because it is not just you in the bathroom. There are other people who will use this bathroom and you will come into contact with them in one way or another. An example that I frequently use is of a gentleman who happened to frequent a high-access, but low quality bathroom that I also had the misfortune of venturing into. This man decided to tie his shoes after washing his hands. Once he was down on the floor at crotch level he discovered that not everyone zips up or properly returns their equipment to its resting place in their pants. This is problematic for obvious reasons.
Bathroom conditions matter because as a society we as a society should demand better of our essential services. We often don’t look at trash collection as something that needs to be done well for instance unless you wind up with trash littered across your front lawn. The same general theory goes for bathrooms as well. We often don’t notice the problems with bathrooms that permeate our society but we should because a lot of bad things can happen if we fail to address the problems therein. The problems of the modern bathroom are not just a problem to those who frequent it, but to those who do not as well. Germs are spread through contact with surfaces as well as indirect contact with people therefore sanitary conditions in all of our nation’s restrooms should be of the utmost priority. Anyone who tells you that bathroom maintenance isn’t a major issue likely hasn’t had the misfortune of tying their shoe in the wrong place at the wrong time. Don’t let them fool you.