Inside Toronto's first automated pay toilet
Standing inside Toronto's new public pay toilet, I'm struck by the not so original thought that life is strange. After 10+ years spent at university cultivating my intellect in the ivory tower, I now find myself working on a "story" about a place where people go to relieve themselves.
Where did I go wrong?
Unfortunately, that question is too much to take on in a blog post, so I'll have to confine myself to a consideration of the washroom. Added bonus: I have pictures! Despite the fact that I received more than a few "who's-that-pervert?" stares as I entered the automated restroom with my professional looking camera, I was willing to make the sacrifice in light of my profound commitment to quality journalism (insert SarcMark here). After all, it stands to reason that people might be curious about what a $400,000 toilet looks like.
Located at Queens Quay and Rees Street, this washroom is the first of its kind in Toronto. Here's what the City's press release has to say about it: "The automated public toilet is activated by inserting a 25-cent coin or token. Each patron is allocated 20 minutes per use, with the time clearly communicated through a three-step audible warning process and a visual blinking light. After each patron exits, the unit will seal itself and begin a self-cleaning cycle."
All of the above is true, but since I spent part of my evening checking this toilet out, I'll share my impressions. Though my visit took place on the day of its opening, I have to say it's still pretty remarkable how clean this thing is. Late in the day, the room remains spotless, and the only odour is that of cleaning agents. But, perhaps even better than the high level of sanitation is the ambient music that plays as you do your business. Not your standard-fare elevator music, it sounds a little bit like Air during their 10,000 hz Legend phase.
At first I had difficulty putting my finger on the general "feel" of the washroom, but as the music was interrupted by a robotic voice doling out instructions, I had my epiphany.
This is the future. Or, more accurately, this is what the creators (and buyers) of the toilet believe the future should be. Like some of Astral Media's other street furniture, this washroom is so 2025. Complete with a Star Trek-like door, full automation, a minimalist design and a general sense of order and cleanliness, upon entry into this washroom, I can't help but feel as though I'm in a time warp.
And like most examples of futurism, things look great right now. Aside from the fact that the door takes what seems to be forever to close (not so good if you're in a rush) and the fact that the seat is a bit cold, this project offers everything you could ever want in a public washroom.
But who knows how things will play out over time? Will these washrooms become a haven for drug-users and the homeless? It's happened in other cities. While the door will open after the first twenty minutes inside, that doesn't mean the occupant is forced to leave the confines of what is, if one is living on the street, a pretty inviting place to sleep. Perhaps there are alarms bells or something.
But I get ahead of myself. I should have researched that. I want to be a good journalist. And speculation can be the death of the well-intended reporter. So, I'll stop here -- but offer the promise that I'll be sure to check back in on this toilet after it's been in use for a while. Perhaps I'll even devote a weekly column to it...
Editor's note: there were almost no puns used in the writing of this article.