On Moscow's Public Toilets

  • In most cities it’s a hell of a job to find a decent toilet in public space. Although iPhone apps are available to help you finding one and point you into the right direction, toilets are never close, especially not when you need one. Many Western cities consider public sanitary primarily as a public responsibility, which means that the installation and exploitation of these units is in hands of local governments. Usually this is the best recipe for failure. Besides the fact that their are almost none, they are always dirty.

    Public Toilet, Moscow
    In Moscow the solution is provided by many local women, who usually rent three toilet cabins and make them available for public use. Two units are being used as toilets, the third is used as a shelter for the lady herself, for payment and for the necessary cleaning equipment. In fact these ladies are very diligent and the toilets are always clean. Visitors have to pay a bit for this service and all are happy to do so. This phenomenon that really seems to work is apparent all over Moscow, but particularly at busy places, like subway stations and bus stops.

    But why won’t this work in the rest of Europe? Although this service would be very welcome in every city, it won’t work in most Western European cities. Besides the everlasting argument of regulation in the public realm, we assume that the real explanation lies in our socio-economic conditions. Entrepreneurship at such a low level only works without a proper social security system. In most Western European countries, social security payments are higher than the possible amount of money one can earn with hiring toilet space on the street. Besides the ones living on street and having a pretty unorganized life, no ‘normal’ citizen is poor enough to be motivated to earn less money while doing this job. On the other hand, this job requires a tough survivor mentality. Conclusion: altogether we’re too rich for some forms of entrepreneurship and urban creativity. Which, by the way, is a fact that I can live with.