As Edmonton's strategy slowly progresses, most candidates agree we need more places to go
It's an issue that the City of Edmonton has been exploring since April 2019, when it launched its City-Wide Public Washroom Strategy with the aim to improve access, user experience, and management of existing facilities (of which there are now 127), as well as develop more permanent public washrooms like the one on Whyte Avenue at Gateway Boulevard.
"I define a public bathroom as something that's like a bench or a street sign or a stop sign — it's on the street and it's free," said Lezlie Lowe, who consulted on Edmonton's public washroom strategy and wrote No Place To Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs. "Everybody needs those amenities for a city to work well, it's paid for by tax dollars, and it's available when you need it."
She explained that cities tend to rely on publicly available washrooms, like those in malls or businesses, rather than investing in truly public amenities. That's problematic because access may be compromised based on race, identity, the need to use a mobility device, or many other reasons.
"Those people are more vulnerable, but they're also less frequently the people who are in decision-making roles," she said. "Access is compromised in different ways for different groups of people ... and so not everybody sees or experiences the problem."
Lowe applauded Edmonton for being one of the few cities to tackle the issue at all, but despite its ingenuity, it has been slow to move towards actually developing new permanent facilities — a need that has been intensified by the pandemic.
Nicole Fraser, the City of Edmonton's general supervisor of parks and roads, said the slow progress has in part been due to a shift in focus to making mobile washrooms available during the pandemic and ensuring that permanent washrooms stayed open, with additional sanitation and monitoring.
"This fall and into 2022 we are continuing to move forward with other goals including finalizing standard operating procedures for permanent and temporary washrooms in parks and open spaces, establishing criteria and a method for prioritization for where permanent and temporary washrooms should be located in the city, further defining the role of city and the business community in ensuring accessible, safe and clean public washrooms, and exploring opportunities to work with various partners including alternative strategies for funding costs for maintaining these spaces," Fraser told Taproot.