The Manners Mall Macca’s toilet simply isn’t enough, writes Janhavi Gosavi.
My favourite meme of all time is a picture of Gossip Girl’s Blair Waldorf saying “go piss girl”. I wish I could, Blair, but the lack of public toilets in the Wellington CBD and along the Golden Mile make it difficult.
The “Golden Mile” is shorthand for the strip of land that stretches from the start of Lambton Quay to the end of Courtenay Place, encompassing Manners Street and parts of Willis Street. This is the main commercial, retail, and hospitality “mile” in the Wellington CBD, and it’s extremely popular with locals and tourists alike.
Yet there are only three public toilets on the Golden Mile: one at the Lambton Transport Interchange, one inside the Arapaki Library on Manners St, and one at the end of Courtenay Place.
For an area with high foot traffic, three toilets isn’t enough. Most people who frequent the CBD don’t live there, and therefore don’t have access to home toilets. I send a silent prayer for all of the Hydro-Flask-Frank-Green-toting city dwellers who have made it their 2023 New Year’s resolution to drink more water.
The next closest public toilets to the Golden Mile are in Civic Square or on Grey St. Busy streets such as Cuba St, Willis St, Victoria St, and The Terrace have no permanent public toilets.
The Wellington Waterfront is dotted with eight public toilets, but shoppers and tourists shouldn’t be expected to walk out to the wharf just to pee. If the aim is to keep people in the CBD, where they can spend their money supporting the local economy, why would Wellington City Council force them to make an unnecessary detour?
According to WCC, the main barriers to building more public toilets in the CBD are the lack of available space, consenting and heritage considerations, and CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design).
In the past, if I was around Courtenay Place and was desperate to use a toilet, I’d go to the dodgy ones at Te Aro Park. They were a hot spot for dangerous activity, but I didn’t have many choices. Te Aro Park’s toilet block was demolished in 2022 as part of the Pōneke Promise, a community partnership to make central Wellington safer.
A New Zealand Police spokesperson said that the design of toilets like the one in Te Aro Park “creates areas that are concealed and secluded”, making them more susceptible to antisocial behaviour. Antisocial behaviour can include shouting, drunkenness, verbal abuse, harassment and violence.
When asked if other public toilets in the CBD attracted instances of crime, the Police said they have no record of whether arrests are made near a public toilet. WCC said they “don’t see a connection between public toilets and antisocial behaviour”, and that this was not a barrier preventing them from building more toilets.
A temporary replacement for Te Aro Park’s toilets was meant to be installed months ago on the corner of Victoria St and Ghuznee St, but WCC says “significant supply-chain delays” mean they have no idea when the toilets will show up. The permanent replacement for Te Aro Park’s toilets, on the corner of Inglewood Place and Taranaki St, will open early 2024.
In response to a question about whether there were currently enough public toilets to cater for the foot traffic in the CBD, WCC said they have recently “undertaken some spatial mapping of the CBD with a 5 minute walk time to public conveniences” to identify “potential gaps in [their] current provision”.
WCC doesn’t seem to be in a rush to build new public toilets, perhaps because Wellington is much better for pissing when compared to other capital cities in the world. An article published in The New York Times stated that there were “four [public toilets] per 100,000 [people] in New York City”. That number only rises to six per 100,000 in London.
Comparatively, Wellington City has 78 public toilets for its full population of 202,737, according to the 2018 census, but only 15 of those public toilets are in the city centre. By comparison, that’s worse than Auckland’s CBD, which has 21 public toilets according to Auckland City Council.
The presence (or lack thereof) of public toilets in the city isn’t good enough for Wellington’s disabled community. According to the Ministry of Disabled People, one in four New Zealanders identify as disabled. If the population of Wellington City is about 200,000, that would mean roughly 50,000 Wellingtonians have a disability.
That’s a lot of people who potentially can’t easily access public toilets, something WCC is well aware of. In May 2022, WCC conducted a survey to update its Accessibility Action Plan. Within it, 40% of respondents said the accessibility of toilets and other public amenities is “bad” or “very bad”.
There are currently no fully accessible public toilets in Wellington. Facilities that were requested included wheelchair hoists, adult changing tables and braille signage. One female paraplegic said the lack of toilet lids meant she “risked [her] feet falling into the toilet”.
Signage for public toilets locations was “difficult to find at present”, with 29% of respondents rating the accessibility of wayfinding as “bad” or “very bad”. The survey clearly outlined a need for more public toilets around main transport routes and in shopping districts, and for them to be cleaned more frequently.
Meanwhile, the public has resorted to treating toilets inside eateries and bars as public toilets, adding an additional workload to already-stretched hospitality staff. JJ Murphy and Co. on Cuba St that gets so many non-patrons using its toilets that there is a now a sign taped to the entrance: “Our toilets are for customers only! They are not public toilets!”
The Manners Street McDonald’s is another popular pee spot. Members of the public are known to stop by the restaurant after a night of clubbing on Courtenay Place, often drunkenly leaving human waste and vomit on the toilet floor for staff to clean up.
A McDonald’s spokesperson said that “operating in CBDs and associated challenges with antisocial behaviour is something Macca’s deals with around the country”. One way that the Manners Street McDonald’s team mitigate this is by operating the restaurant with a takeaway only service, which includes closing the bathrooms.
Wellington CBD’s lack of sufficient public toilets poses a genuine concern for accessibility and public health. For the city centre to reach its potential of being vibrant and alive, it will need to provide more than a bush and a dark alleyway for Wellingtonians to relieve themselves in.
Build more public toilets. Let us go piss, girl.