The Axes of Public Peeing - a Novel Way to Look at an Old Issue


photo: Adam Jones PhD/Creative Commons

Some time ago, I asked whether peeing in public was green. With issues ranging from nasty smells to social disapproval, it's clear that the appropriateness of peeing in public is a far from cut-and-dry matter. We have already seen plenty of examples of product design aimed at alleviating some of the problems with public urination—from women peeing in their pants (not quite what it sounds!) to urinals disguised as trash cans. But sociologist Laura Norén's "Axes of Public Peeing" (image below) may be the first example of graphic design that is intended to actually help us figure out what is acceptable, and what's not. It raises some fascinating questions.

Laura Norén's Graphic Sociology blog regularly evaluates and analyzes the graphic representation of social data. The Axes of Public Peeing is particularly interesting—analyzing how we choose to balance the relative pressures (no pun intended) of biological control of our need to urinate, versus social control of how we manage that urination in public places. The insight that dogs can pee where they please whereas humans can't is in itself an interesting question to ponder.

Beyond the obvious green angles of how we choose to dispose of our human waste with as efficient a use of resources as possible, and how we maintain pleasant, inviting urban environments where people feel comfortable to walk, bike and spend time, there is another environmental question at play—as revealed by the original inspiration for the graphic:

What worked about this as a graphic is that it helped me sort out how I was thinking about the problem of access to the city when the bladder is a leash. I couldn't quite sort out how to think about what it means that some public peeing is acceptable even though it is mostly completely unacceptable. One of the odd side effects of the introduction of the new TSA pat down procedures is that it revealed just how many people struggle with incontinence, either needing to urinate frequently or needing to wear diapers (or both). I was aware of those issues before the TSA started sticking their hands in private places, but I wasn't sure how to simultaneously think about adult diapers, dogs peeing on the street, and taxi/truck drivers peeing in jugs while still in their cabs. Where social control is very strong - as it is in the case of urination - it can almost trump biological needs, especially if the biological needs offer a level of control.

With bladder issues being one of those challenges that many people choose not to talk about, this is a welcome contribution to the debate. And with the absolute concrete knowledge that we all pee, and we all poop, it's important that we consider both the physical design of toilets and toilet infrastructure, and the social attitudes to how we use them, as a central part of the discussion about livable cities—right alongside our posts about usable bike lanes, diagonal crosswalks, or providing urban green space.

Thanks to Julia Norén for the reminder.

More on Peeing in Public
Is Peeing in Public Green?
Peeing in Your Pants - the ideal public toilet accessory for women
Urinals Disguised as Trash Cans

Tags: Cities | Communities | Toilets

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