Axes of peeing in public

You might think this is a joke, but this is serious business. From Laura Noren, a PhD candidate in sociology, the axes of public peeing:

This was something I used to help me think through the two main axes that determine peeing behavior – biological and social control. Urination is a biological function that has been subjected to a great degree of social control. Unfortunately, urban design has not kept pace with the demand for clean, easily accessible public restrooms for humans. And there has been no attempt to create any kind of system to deal with canine urine. In most cities it is illegal for humans to pee in public but both legal and widely accepted for dogs to pee where ever they like (in New York, they cannot pee on the grass in parks).

It seems the only solution is to let people go wherever they want, as the dogs do.

[Graphic Sociology]


  • What’s the optimal solution, given all the external factors and complicated social norms? Depends.

    • It would seem that peeing in a public restroom is the goal, assuming there are acceptable and accepting public restrooms. One way to get to that goal would be to make all restrooms officially public restrooms. There are, in fact, bathrooms all over the place, they just tend to require that you are a patron/customer in order to use them. That’s definitely a discretionary and probably a discriminatory way to go. Want to know what classism and racism feels like? It feels like not having anywhere to go to the bathroom in the city. Small retailers forced to open bathrooms to all may not necessarily be any the worse for it. Starbucks already has an open-door policy and they still manage to sell beverages to an affluent clientele no matter who is in the bathroom.

      • I worked at a coffee shop in Portland, OR. My poor manager had to go out and buy a haz-mat suit to clean the blood off of the walls and ceiling from a adict bursting their vein in the bathroom. This kind of thing happens all the time! Lots of needles, people taking a shower with multiple rolls of TP and the sink and then crapping in the middle of the floor. Just peeing is not the issue, it is the other things people do when they can lock the door. Those poor baristas do not get payed nearly enough to have to clean that up.

      • Colourless Green December 9, 2010 at 9:00 am

        I’m also from Portland, OR, and while I haven’t had that experience, there are problems with this hesitation. When so many places don’t allow you to use the restroom, a disproportionate number of us have to deal with the traffic (demand) for the restrooms where we are allowed to use the bathrooms. The vast majority of people simply have to use the toilet and aren’t going to have a vein mishap. Assuming that everyone does is, well, presumptuous and stupid.

        I travel every so often and have noticed a couple of things. In San Francisco, I wanted to crap on a doorstep. There were zero access to bathrooms (even the public pay toilets were out of order), and where I was staying was 40 miles (not minutes) away. It is practically impossible to find a place to pee in SF. That is very frustrating as a tourist.

        Conversely, in London, there are clean, excellent public toilets everywhere. So a few may be trashed, but it is the minority because they are everywhere. That way, one person doesn’t spoil it for everyone else if they screw up the bathroom, because people have an alternative.

        Which city (Portland, San Francisco, or London) do you think makes the most on tourism?

  • Tyler Totman December 8, 2010 at 8:02 am

    Edmonton, Alberta: Theyve provided open air urinals for males (and nearby a regular porta-potty for females). It’s an area with frequent street festivals, and a large number of bars/unique shops.

    Article from CBC:

    And a photo of the open air urinals across from “The Billiard Club” on Whyte Ave I believe.

    If the link doesn’t work, just google image search “Edmonton Whyte Ave Urinals”

    Not the best fix, but it may have helped cut down on random public urination. At least it seemed to be fair innovative.


  • Gerard St. Croix December 8, 2010 at 3:18 pm

    I’m delighted to see what sort of… science… happens at taxpayer expense these days. And then academics are surprised when when it turns out their degrees are about as hot a commodity on the job market as, uh, toilet paper. Although, to be fair, this nice woman seems to have something of an inkling about that already, given the subject matter of her chosen studies.

    Alrighty, then. On to obvious methodology questions. Why is using public restroom more “biologically liberating” than all the street peeing choices? An empty bladder is an empty bladder, no?

    • Yeah. Sometimes I feel the desire to separate my own work in sociology from what people in the “fun house” of the social sciences do. It’s not like there weren’t serious problems out there in the world that could use scientific analysis.

      • Getting ticketed and fined for public urination is not a joke, especially when some people are more likely to be faced with the nowhere-to-go problem than others. One could argue that discretionary policies like “patrons only” bathroom rules are what racism and class-ism look like on the everyday. I’m a young, relatively clean looking white woman, blond hair, blue eyes, slim. If I really need to, I can usually talk my way around those bathrooms are for patrons only policies. But I am well aware that I have a privilege other people don’t have. I am not at all upset when social scientists reveal just how these privileges unfold during the normal rounds of daily life. Yes, it is difficult to take anything scatological seriously. But there are sound sociological reasons to do so.

        Here are some of the consequences of getting caught by the authorities for peeing in public. I live in New York so I mostly know about New York’s policies:

        1. The fine for being caught peeing in a park (outside the park’s restroom, which might very well be closed) can be up to $1000. Non-trivial, I would say.
        2. In some states, but not New York, the charge for public urination doesn’t exist, per se, so violators often get charged with lewd or indecent exposure. That can land them on the sex offender registry. Out-sized reaction.
        3. I read in the New York Times this morning that some police departments are taking it upon themselves to become immigration enforcers. I don’t know of any cases of undocumented immigrants getting caught peeing in public and subsequently deported, but it would seem that it could be possible. The point is that discretionary policies tend to reinforce meaningful schisms – between men and women, people of color and whites, US-born and non-US born folks – even if the triggering behavior seems silly. Like peeing in public.

  • In Prague I would sometimes see girls squat in the street and take a piss after a few too many beers. Never bothered me. Also in the UK pissing in alley-ways is considered normal behavior. Good hint for a man who is desperate to take a pee in a city with no alley-ways. Walk up behind a SUV parked in the street and act as if you are opening the back door. Urinate. Sorted!

  • They missed Street Peeing (Unabashed, but fearful of police action).

  • Uh, tampons don’t have anything to do with peeing. Just thought you should know.