Recently, while hanging out in Madison Square Park, I needed to pee. There was an APT (Automated Public Toilet) nearby. Unfortunately, it was out of order. No big deal – because of my privilege as a middle class, white person, I was able to use the toilet at a nearby bar instead.
I learned about APTs in In Lezlie Lowe’s new book, No Place to Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs. She writes about how crucial public toilets are, especially for those who can’t just walk into a privately-owned business bathroom, such as the homeless. The area around the broken public toilet in Madison Square Park smelled like urine, presumably because others had, lacking a place to go, urinated on the street instead.
Lezlie Lowe, a freelance journalist of over 15 years, has been covering public toilets for a long time. “I described public bathrooms as the itch I could never scratch,” Lowe said. She first became interested when her small children’s bathroom needs changed her relationship to her city. “But over time I kept on it,” Lowe said. “[Toilets are] the one thing I keep coming back to in my journalism practice. … There’s always great stories.”
Toilets also appealed to Lowe because she likes to write about the unnoticed parts of everyday life. “Public bathrooms were a good fit because you can’t find someone who doesn’t have some relationship with public bathrooms,” yet they’re frequently ignored or underappreciated in building design and public spaces.
We talked to Lezlie Lowe about toilets, feminism, and the process of working with a small press.