A Loo for You

Portland Loos. Credit: Andy Nystrom, FlickrCCPortland’s newest outdoor public bathrooms are far from high-tech—unless you count the fact that they have their own Twitter and Facebook pages. The simple, 100% solar-powered, graffiti-proof-coated bathrooms dubbed “Portland Loos” really put the “public” in public restroom. The loos are 6’ X 10’, ultra-energy efficient facilities located in highly trafficked parts of the city. Their purely functional, stainless steel design leaves your head (when standing) and feet exposed, giving you just enough privacy for a quick pit-stop. Additionally, Loos have no mirrors, no paper towel holders and no sinks—just four walls, LED lighting fixtures, a small dispenser of hand sanitizer, a unisex toilet and a toilet paper roll. Hand-washing can be completed at a sink located just outside of the bathroom. The exterior sink, combined with the facilities’ not-so-private design, reduce the loitering and crime commonly seen in urban public restrooms.

“Some people, if they’re homeless, use a sink to wash their laundry,” says Anna DiBenedetto, a staff assistant to City Commissioner Randy Leonard. “Trying to be comfortable and private makes people feel more empowered to do the illegal activities that people do in public toilets.”

Portland’s first Loo was installed in December 2008 and the sixth opened this past August. Because Loos are made in Northwest Portland and can be shipped in parts, the city hopes to profit by expanding their market across North America. Victoria, British Columbia, has already installed one and city leaders in San Diego, Vancouver, Houston, Baltimore and Seattle have all expressed interest. Loos have a current price tag of approximately $60,000 plus about $1,000 in monthly maintenance costs (each Loo is cleaned twice a day).

“We designed a unique product that’s not available anywhere else,” Leonard says. “Would it be fair to say to other cities…‘No, you can’t buy our restroom’? That didn’t make sense to me.”