New Public Pissoirs in Paris Are Problematic


Parisians are complaining, but the fact is that people need a place to pee; it's a human right.

Over a year ago, Matt Hickman described new “compost-generating public urinals” being installed for a “dry run” in Paris, to deal with the problem of men who pee in the streets.

original concept

© Faltazi/ Original design, on Treehugger last year.

Resembling a sort of boxy trash receptacle with what the Guardian calls a “miniature garden” growing out of the top, the compost-generating public urinal in question is named Uritrottoir — a moniker incorporating the French words for “urinal” and “pavement.” The interior of each water-free, graffiti-proof Uritrottoir unit is stuffed with straw, wood chips and sawdust, which absorb the urine and eliminate any offending smells.

Two were installed outside Gare de Lyon, France’s third busiest rail station, and an SNCF maintenance official is quoted as saying “I am optimistic it will work. Everyone is tired of the mess."

Uritrottier in paris

© Thomas SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images

Now, 18 months later, it seems that they did not quite work as planned. Les Uritrottoirs were put in very prominent, exposed locations and everyone can see men peeing; many are upset by this, but according to the inventor, this was done on purpose. He’s quoted in AFP:

Laurent Lebot, one of the two designers behind Faltazi, acknowledged that the prominent location of some of the uritrottoirs was grating for some residents. As for the lack of privacy, he said that police didn't want them to provide too much space to hide, "to avoid problems with drugs and sex that can happen with enclosed urinals".
Uritrottoir as it was supposed to look

© Faltazi

They are also not turning out to be the pretty gardens that Matt showed in his post.

The once pretty plants which topped the Uritrottoir outside the Gare de Lyon, a major rail train station, appear lifeless, their appearance not helped by the cigarette butts and plastic bottles on top.
uritrottoir in Paris


Indeed, when you look at almost every photo, there is a trail of urine leading away into the street. The units are supposed to be serviced every three weeks, to change the straw, but was that enough? Was the design flawed? Or are people just jerks?

These are all serious questions that go far beyond the issue of this particular design. Public urination is an obvious problem among young men who drink too much, but access to a place to pee is a serious issue for everyone, particularly for aging men and women. I have written on that “a place to pee is a human need, as much as a place to walk. And while boomer men have a particular interest in the subject, the reality is that everyone should have access to a toilet.”

The situation is only going to get worse as the population ages (baby boomer men have to pee a lot), but there are also people with irritable bowel syndrome, pregnant women and others who simply need a bathroom more often or at less convenient moments. Authorities say providing public washrooms can't be done because it would cost "hundreds of millions" but never have a problem spending billions on the building of highways for the convenience of drivers who can drive from home to the mall where there are lots of washrooms. The comfort of people who walk, people who are old, people who are poor or sick — that doesn't matter.

We can all laugh and make oui-oui jokes about Paris plastic pissoirs, but this is a serious urban issue.