When nature calls, sometimes you just can't wait, and that — as evident from the City Paper's PeeNinsula 5000 — has created a problem for our fine city.
This is particularly problematic for the tourist-heavy area South of Broad, which until recently contained not a single public restroom. A pilot program currently in operation has opened the two restrooms at Hazel Parker Playground from 8 a.m.-8 p.m., and according to a recent Post & Courier article, things have been going smoothly. While that is certainly good news, what struck me most about the new bathrooms was the fact that they had an on-site security guard — something I've never seen at any of the city's other public restrooms.
Given the need for this level of protection, one would assume the bathrooms have gold-plated toilet seats and rolls of $100 bills in lieu of standard toilet paper. Not so. When I went to check them out I discovered a security guard (sitting, talking on her phone) protecting two basic facilities — though I do believe they feature two-ply.
In fairness, I can accept some justification for security as the building houses not just restrooms but also an education center. But it seems equally possible that the city placed a guard there to ease concerns from the surrounding South of Broad residents. If that's the case, this is just one more example of the perceived notion that some neighborhoods in this city are treated better than others.
The fact is, despite all of the talk of unity within Charleston, our city is still very divided on many levels. Those who are willing to acknowledge this can easily see inequities in our communities both on and off the peninsula. Certainly many of these issues come with decades of baggage and are difficult to resolve, but at minimum, the city needs to be the leader in establishing greater consistency with the use of public resources.
One of the easiest ways to show uniformity in this case would be to provide public restrooms and water fountains (or even better, fill stations) at all public parks and recreational areas. When walking up to Hazel Parker Playground I saw a basketball game in action, a playground with children screaming, and a dog park full of furry friends. I saw a healthy and active public space being used just as intended. I saw a place that absolutely deserved a public restroom — preferably one without limited hours.
Our city has many other excellent public spaces being utilized by tourists and residents alike, yet most of them lack the basic amenities to meet our bodies' most essential functions — just take a look at charlestonparksconservancy.org to find the amenities at each park. We pride ourselves on the plethora of restaurants and bars throughout the peninsula, but should your oysters not sit quite right or you forgot to make a pitstop after your fifth martini, you better hope home is nearby.
Certainly public restrooms are not needed on every block, but given that so many people spend time enjoying our public spaces, it makes sense for the city to provide more options. If crime is a concern, then provide guards during late-night hours or install security equipment everywhere, but don't inhibit such a basic human need.
And to help the city combat this problem, I offer one solution to get things going: make all hotel lobby bathrooms open to the public 24/7. With all that our city is providing these new hotels, the very least they can do in return is offer the public free relief when the need arises.
Charlie Letts is a downtown resident and community activist focused on improving the use of public resources.