Some other explanations for why public toilets are the way they are






From a podcast listener named Kathy McGreersome really interesting comments on our recent episode”Time to bring back the toilet“:

I’m an avid listener of the Freakonomics podcast and I just wanted to respond to a recent episode about noise in public restrooms (or lack of buffers). I had a discussion about the history of the country house in the UK (and cruises in America). I learned that in the UK for most of the 20th century, there were really harsh punishments for homosexuality, and therefore toilets were chosen as a meeting place for gays. Until now, sex in public toilets is not uncommon between strangers (or friends, or whatever). I also learned about how the police fight homosexuality by stopping activity in public restrooms. My brother suggested that modern bathroom design evolved in part so that the police could enter toilets silently and sneak up on people who use public toilets for various (sometimes hidden) purposes. I started thinking about other ways to use public restrooms. People usually go to kiosks to take drugs. And the use of toilets is not only for illegal activities, but also for activities that are not approved by the public. In Korea, for example, toilet stalls have ashtrays, and women often sneak out to smoke, out of the public eye, as it’s forbidden for “ladies” to be seen smoking. Thus, public toilets are a kind of refuge, a private place in a public space. But obviously they can also be dangerous. It’s interesting to think that the design of toilet stalls and doorways could be an integral part of a wider security or suppression program. In Edmonton, my hometown, some public toilets on busy streets are made of glass (the cubicles are still made of metal, but you can see people’s feet). This transparency, they say, is a measure taken to prevent rape. In a way, I also see the strategic value of keeping public restrooms quiet: you can hear more, and even if you don’t hold back certain behaviors, it’s easier for you to “catch” them.