My research concerns public restroom access in downtown Chicago. Some of my research questions are: where are the public restrooms, why are they there, and how do restroom assets differ between men, women, and the handicapped? My approach is to venture forth in the city with a female research partner (usually my girlfriend, bless her heart), armed with a map and survey forms, and attempt to go to the bathroom in as many places as possible. We take down information such as number of: stalls, handicap stalls, urinals, children urinals, sinks, soap dispensers, paper towel dispensers, hot air hand dryers, baby changing stations and tampon machines. We also record how the restroom is accessed (e.g. stairs, elevator, escalator), and a subjective rating about safety and cleanliness.
I have been working on this project since the Fall of 2011, and so far have mapped over 200 restrooms, and been refused at only two locations. Most people are open to the idea, either because of the novelty of studying public restrooms, or the feeling of unity they get when they really think about going to the bathroom in a public space. And yet, this is not a subject that is widely discussed. Sure there are any number of rants on YouTube where people talk about how much they hate public restrooms, and there is talk of an upcoming walking tour in Chicago visiting prominent female restrooms, but no one is really asking where the public restrooms are, and why are they there? The fact that the ratio of baby changing stations is nearly 2 to 1 in female to male restrooms (from preliminary results of my study) isn’t all that surprising, but is that right? How do single fathers feel about that? How come there are still public restrooms with NO handicap accessible stalls? Why do zero hotels offer baby changing stations in their lobby restrooms? These are all good questions, and I hope to find some answers, however unpleasant the truth may be.