The city council has been doing ordinance housekeeping relating to quality of life issues downtown — refining or removing some that relate to public drunkenness, cat-calling, public urination, and others. Up from this process, with credit due to Stephen Marshall, an advocate for the homeless (see his blog), came the realization that the city is criminalizing an inescapable human act — public urination — while not providing public facilities for that purpose.

I gave this statement to the city council tonight during public forum:

I think we all hope to accomplish dignity — to feel it in ourselves, and to never take it away from other people.

Stephen Marshall has made the point that we are humans, and we function in a certain unavoidable way. The point has also been made that we are criminalizing people for circumstances that we forced them into by not providing bathrooms in the first place.

I’ll make two additional points.

When we interact with people who break our ordinance about urinating in public, our agent for that is a police officer. We respect our police officers and our police force is necessary. But we should all perceive that our officers are also authority figures, with guns on their hips. When the city sends an agent with a gun to tell a person that for the act of being human, without the option of a civilized toilet, that they are a branded criminal and will now pay the city money for it, we are all committing a quiet violence against human dignity.

The other point I’ll make is that Burlington is investing tens of millions of dollars in public infrastructure. From the new City Place Burlington roads to Great Streets BTV, to City Hall Park we’re making choices about what to build. Please consider that at this moment the city — under your leadership — is building pretty benches on Main Street and patios in City Hall Park, not public restrooms that would make our city kind, and a better place for both citizens and visitors.

You’re in a position to take dignity away. You’re also in a position to give us all more dignity than we currently have. Please build public restrooms in Burlington and proudly make the statement that our city has both compassion and acumen for the job of governing fairly.

I’ve shared an example of the free public sanisettes found in Paris.

More than one city councilor expressed support for new public restrooms. The Great Streets BTV team has said during their many public presentations that the project was considering incorporating a Portland Loo into City Hall Park as part of the Imagine City Hall Park redesign, now incorporated into the Great Streets BTV plan (see the photo at top from the Portland Loo web site). Tonight, Mayor Weinberger said this public restroom was part of the City Hall Park plan, moving it closer to something we might count on.

I shared a photo and overview of the free sanisettes offered in downtown Paris — small, automated, self-cleaning, safe public bathrooms, to provide another realistic model available to Burlington. I learned about sanisettes today when I posted an article about our local ordinance issue to Facebook and a friend, Gordon Glover, responded with the link to a description, a win for social media crowd-advocacy.

The city council meeting tonight left me optimistic that Burlington is on track philosophically to offer public restrooms, and not far from it with the imminent Great Streets BTV/City Hall Park investments, if advocacy remains persistent. Ensuring public restrooms are available at the Waterfront and the other end of Church Street should follow.

The Burlington Free Press reported about this topic.

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