PORTLAND, Ore. – Carol McCreary stood on the sidewalk outside a men’s restroom in downtown Portland and didn’t like what she saw, namely the unobstructed view of a fellow using the facilities inside.

“There’s a guy sitting on the pot,” she said last week standing at the northern edge of Lownsdale Square park. “That’s bad … That is very bad. That’s terrible.”

Such a basic lack of privacy – and dignity – is but one of the reasons that McCreary is on a crusade to bring more and better-designed public restrooms to urban areas in the United States.

On Thursday, she will present a paper she co-wrote for the American Restroom Association at the World Toilet Summit in India, urging the U.S. government to acknowledge the threat to public health if restrooms are not available for Joe and Jane Citizen. The general public, she said, should have the same access to restrooms in common areas that employees enjoy under U.S. labor laws.

McCreary immersed herself in the issue, and moved to Portland, after spending most of her adult life overseas with her husband, Jack, teaching English and working in community development in the Middle East and South Asia.

A high-energy advocate for a number of livability issues, she is 61, a mother of two grown children and an Olympic-caliber talker who wears her brown hair clipped short and can rate a public restroom like Roger Ebert rates movies.

If there’s a sink, but no soap, that’s fine because people can slip on soap, McCreary said. A public restroom for women that locks from the inside is unsafe, she said, because a predator could follow a woman in and lock the door behind him.

And she likes public restrooms with doors, on the stalls and in front, for the sake of privacy. Doors are sometimes taken off to prevent drug use, prostitution and other crimes. But McCreary thinks stalls that provide a gap between the door and floor allow “natural surveillance” and would deter much of this behavior.

“This was redesigned in the 1980s for indigents,” she said outside the men’s room at Lownsdale Square. “And they use it. It serves their purposes. But it doesn’t meet their need for dignity.”

Access to properly designed restrooms has long been a personal concern for McCreary. Her mother, who died in February at age 96, used a wheelchair late in life and had difficulty finding public restrooms that were easy to use.

“Finding a place where I could take my mom and dad,” McCreary said. “That’s really where it got to me.”

But it’s not just the elderly who suffer from the lack of public restrooms, McCreary said. Pregnant women, young children and people with a variety of ailments need restrooms that are clean and safe when they’re in a public place.

It’s been a long-running issue in her Portland neighborhood, Old Town, which draws crowds of young people and homeless people thanks to a vibrant bar scene and a number of social service agencies. Because there are few public restrooms in Old Town, those visitors sometimes use the great outdoors when Mother Nature calls.

In 2005, McCreary and five other neighborhood leaders created an advocacy group called PHLUSH – Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human.

The group conducted a study of Portland public restrooms and is working with Mayor Tom Potter’s office to help bring restrooms to Old Town and downtown.

McCreary isn’t the only one who thinks the men’s room at Lownsdale Square needs some additional privacy.

Hyginus Igwe used the restroom last week and said it needs to be cleaned more often. He also suggested a wall to block the open view of the stalls from the sidewalk.

“It’s not a pretty sight,” he said.

And, according to McCreary, it sends a bad message to tourists who are used to better designs.

“Open stalls,” she said, “are not going to enamor Portland to overseas visitors.”


(Stephen Beaven is a staff writer for The Oregonian of Portland, Ore. He can be contacted at stevebeaven(at)news.oregonian.com.)


AP-NY-10-30-07 1803EDT

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