The Toilet Critic

A recent NYTimes article on the various public bathrooms in the city’s parks consulted Harvey Molotch, the editor of our upcoming Toilet: The Public Restroom and the Politics of Sharing.

Your first hint is the enormous arrangement of fresh flowers. Accompanying me there recently, Harvey Molotch, the New York University professor who edited the forthcoming volume “Toilet: The Public Restroom and the Politics of Sharing,” called those flowers “an act of deliberate vulnerability, which signals that something is right about this place.” Think of it as the opposite of the “broken windows” theory in criminology: when people see that such care has been taken with something so perishable and lovely, they start to treat the place with care themselves. The wood and marble finishes help too, as do the attendants who are right there at all times, wiping counters and replacing toilet paper rolls. And just in case, the seats are covered in a thin plastic sheath that automatically refreshes itself after each use.

Professor Molotch sees in all this an effort to allay anxieties — about the presence of semi-naked strangers, about the possibility of sex or crime, about the position of an individual in a crowd. “The cleanliness and the high standard of the maintenance signal that not only is something right about the restroom,” he said, “but something is right about the park, and by extension the city.”

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