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Spring 1993
City Journal Spring 1993.
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Down the Toilet
Adam P. Glick
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Over a year ago it seemed that New Yorkers would no longer have to cross their legs or search for the nearest restaurant or hotel lobby when nature called. A French firm, the J.C. Decaux Company, proposed showering (sorry) the city with public toilets that have been used successfully in Europe for the last ten years.

“What’s the catch?” savvy New Yorkers queried. Well, unfortunately, there was one. You see, the J.C. Decaux Company had the gall to offer these units to the city free of charge. (Advertising revenue from les affiches displayed on the units would provide the firm with its profits.) This, of course, threw New York City’s obstructionist bureaucrats into a tizzy. They scoured the books to find a law that could kill the deal.

“How ’bout, ’The upkeep will be too expensive for the city?’” No. J.C. Decaux would pay for all upkeep. “Check out how they tie into our plumbing system, maybe we can find some code violations.” Nope, the units are entirely self-contained. “Maybe the Municipal Arts Society will declare them unsightly.” Non.

“Wait, I’ve got it—are they handicapped-accessible?”

Ah. Someone had struck paydirt.

Alas, the units are not handicapped-accessible. The reason for this is simple. The J.C. Decaux Company had found that units large enough to accommodate a wheelchair became havens for drug addicts and prostitutes. These units were therefore avoided by those citizens whose idea of relieving themselves didn’t include the services of another individual.

But J.C. Decaux had a solution. During an experimental period (after which the city would open the process up to bids) the company would provide, in addition to the standard unit, a number of handicapped-accessible units. These units would be locked to the general public, but access cards would be provided free of charge to citizens in wheelchairs. Amazingly, the city capitulated and for a few months New Yorkers enjoyed, without incident, public restrooms.

Now comes the unbelievable part. After the experiment was over, advocates for the handicapped declared that the separate-but-equal units weren’t good enough. The handicapped, their logic espoused, must use the same porcelain as everyone else. Anything less is discriminatory.

Sure enough, the city caved in to this logic and decided that it would rig the bidding process to favor manufacturers who built the same unit for handicapped and nonhandicapped citizens. In other words, the city would favor a unit that was accessible to drug dealers and prostitutes over one that wasn’t accessible to the handicapped. Shocked, J.C. Decaux declared that it was pulling out and flying back to France.

Why don’t we think about making the city accessible to the able? Concerns about safer streets, a better public school system, fewer Byzantine laws and restrictions, and lower taxes time and time again take a back seat to such pressing issues as politically correct toilets, efficient condom distribution networks, and who gets to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

If New York continues to pander to those interest groups who live off the public’s tax dollars while ignoring the citizens who provide them, it will only be a matter of time before even more taxpayers leave.

Like it or not, our city is facing an emergency. And its recovery will require the cooperation of all citizens. Let’s hope that someone has the courage to point out that only those individuals who can fend for themselves financially can ever be in as position to take care of others.

 

 


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